The House of Impossible Beauties is a moving and raw novel about gay and trans life in New York City in the late 1970s to the early 90s. It follows Angel, Venus, Daniel, and Juanito in the underground ball scene of Harlem as they come together and form the city’s first all-Latino house. The AIDS crisis, sex work, rejection, love, drugs, and a lot more feature in this novel that blends real life locations and characters inspired by elements of real people with fictional stories that are full of heart and fight for life.
Cassara moves between characters’ narratives to weave their personal tales and histories together before they even meet, in a way that does well to keep the reader invested in all of the main characters, who are flawed and desperate in the city and have all fled from something. The novel is about resilience and love—finding a new family as well as sex and romance—but also highlights how these cannot always protect people from the harsher sides of life. The ending of the book is quite heartbreaking, though the way it is written makes it seem part of life too.
The House of Impossible Beauties blends important LGBT history with moving and vibrant characters to show the ups and downs of life, particularly for its two central characters from the start, both trans women with complicated families who look for new kinds of family. The book isn’t a particularly happy read, but it gives a real sense of the city and the trans and gay culture that underpins it.