From the outset this book shrieks its presence into your awareness. Oy vey my child is gay (and an addict) are the words emblazoned in shocking pink across the face of a beautiful toddler. From the first time you see this book, you might find it sensationalist and disrespectful. It’s a plot spoiler. It even feels a tad homophobic. But you need to steel yourself to look beyond that cover and that title.
This is a first person narrative – a debut self-published work – that unflinchingly tackles head on the challenge faced by a woman when her daughter does not grow up into the stereotype she expects of her. When her daughter faces and represents more complex and bewildering challenges than she feels she, as her mother, has the tools to cope with. It’s a gutsy, powerful and eminently readable publication in which Anne Lapedus Brest has clearly been at pains to get right in the telling.
And the story is told with a distinctive personal style and a satisfying structure, chronicling the life of Lapedus Brest’s daughter Angela, who as the title points out, suffers the indignity of having to come out as gay in a homophobic community, and who further, becomes addicted to hard drugs.
In its telling, Lapedus Brest spills it all: no avenue of the horrors associated with not understanding who her daughter is remains unexplored. Veering on the side of parochial, Lapedus Brest’s text is heavily peppered with South Africanisms and Jewishisms which might be off putting to a reader not from either of these communities, but it resonates with an evocative sense of authenticity.
Towards the end of the narrative, the love articulated becomes so overwritten, it compromises the rest of the book. It is the opening and closing of the package of this book, then, that hurt it the most.
There’s a chapter in which Lapedus Brest writes about her own relationships in an attempt to explain the notion of an addictive personality. There’s another in which she quotes directly from Angela’s personal diaries and a third in which she coerces Angela’s father Hymie to write a ‘Dear Angela’ tribute. These elements make you, the reader, cringe: you feel you shouldn’t be made privy to them. They’re private family moments which detract from the values secreted within this book.
Catastrophe is a brave and important gesture as a book, particularly from within the reaches of a community in which the common approach to such challenges has been to hide them, deny them and pretend them away, forcing children to perpetuate the same behaviour. It’s a celebration of the life of a family who managed to roll with the punches and still remain roughly intact, and it must have been an enormously cathartic exercise for the author herself. It’s just a pity that too much “emotion on the stage” prevents it from seriously being literature as well as advocacy in its nature.
Catastrophe: Oy Vey my child is gay and an addict by Anne Lapedus Brest (MF Books, an imprint of Jacana Media, Johannesburg 2014)