At Certain Points We Touch
by Lauren John Joseph
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Pub Date 06 Dec 2022 | Archive Date 30 Nov 2022
Bloomsbury USA, Bloomsbury Publishing
AN OBSERVER BEST DEBUT NOVEL OF THE YEAR * AN ESQUIRE BEST BOOK OF 2022 * A STYLIST BOOK YOU CAN'T MISS IN 2022
"SMART, SPARKLING, TWISTED" -Attitude
"SCREAMINGLY FUNNY, SCANDALOUSLY HOT, OPULENT, DEEP" -Jeremy Atherton Lin, author of Gay Bar
From an electrifying new voice, a "stone-cold masterpiece" (Olivia Laing) of queer friendship, first love, and unbridled youth.
It's four in the morning, and our narrator is walking home from the club when they realize the date is February 29th-the birthday of the man who was something like their first love. Piecing together art, letters, and memory, they set about trying to write the story of a doomed affair that first sparked and burned a decade ago.
Ten years earlier, our young narrator and a boy named Thomas James fall into bed with one another over the summer of their graduation. Their ensuing affair, with its violent, animal intensity and its intoxicating and toxic power plays initiates a dance of repulsion and attraction that will cross years, span continents, drag in countless victims-and culminate in terrible betrayal.
At Certain Points We Touch is a story of first love and last rites, conjured against a vivid backdrop of London, San Francisco, and New York-a riotous, razor-sharp coming-of-age story that marks the arrival of an extraordinary new talent.
Average rating from 23 members
At Certain Points We Touch is a stunning novel. I couldn’t put it down after I started reading it. The story starts with the narrator realizing the date is the anniversary of their deceased lovers death. The narrator then has an almost obsessive need to write down their story and how it all started. What follows is a beautiful and raw coming of age story that is honestly unlike anything I’ve ever read before. I finished and then felt the need to re-read the story again. I will definitely be reading this again and again and I’ll be recommending this to others as well.
A phenomenal eulogy to, presumably, a fictional gay lover from a trans woman in what appears to be the early oughts almost coming-of-age story nested in the (again, fictional, I presume) London queer scene of the time. On the anniversary of her lover's death, she descends into a fit of hypergraphia—chronicling—through an open letter directed at the deceased reader—her life predominantly through the lens of the tremulous and exultant relationship with the complex rendered dead. The definition of unflinching really, since it’s as much about characterizing the narrator as it is him, Thomas, now 4 years gone.
Rather than about transitioning or bildungsroman or capturing the “scene”, it really is almost 400 pages of showing how her life was affected by Thomas while acting as an architect with some perspective, cobbling together who he actually was. Though emotion is tinged throughout, it’s also a kind of exorcism because Thomas was not a very “good” person. His relationship to his queerness and his fundamental homophobia and conservative values are unearthed, begging the question of who he might have become. Chillingly, there’s a mention of him probably having voted for Brexit, had he had the opportunity even. Thomas’s fixation on femmes is also, really troubling.
But there’s also no opportunity to grow. There’s grey space in their time in the most formative years of adulthood. Jetting off to people who don’t treat each other poorly. Intersections of poverty and queerness and internalized socialization are complex. It gives a lot of space to show all the characters, including Thomas, in a very humanistic light. One that makes it really difficult to condemn anyone, even when they ought to be perhaps, especially in this day and age of cancel culture though, when you have the full measure, or near it, the ability to shun seems to allude to a fate worse than death. Before it was even fashionable.
The prose work is as fantastic as the characters. Plot-driven readers will probably go a bit mad waiting for more “things to happen”, but interiority-driven ones will lap this up. It’s as strung out as our narrator tends to be in those young years at times, but always a pleasure. Especially when it drives to the meat of the relationship and then circles around again, not quite ready to come to terms with the really ugly notions this means for Thomas and her. I thought it was strategically plotted, unafraid to fly in the face of convention, as literary fiction is want to do, usually. As gorgeous as it is ugly. Bright and clear and witty, tremendously sad at just the right times. Loved it.
It is, by the way, “very gay”, in terms of the graphic sex scenes and lens with which male bodies are displayed, talked about, and sexualized, with, you know, lots of sex. So may not be for some. I thought it made a lot of sense to the character and it was fascinating to have that from a pre-transitioned, liminal space queer perspective. Neither identifying as trans at the time nor a gay man and entangled with men who identify as gay but not queer, often. Fascinating stuff. Some will clutch pearls, so be aware. Perhaps TOO gay for the Booker then, given the judge of a previous year saying Shuggie Bain was gay but not too gay. This is far exceeding those scenes. But it absolutely ought to be a Booker book, and is a prize book of high caliber in my estimation.