At Certain Points We Touch by Lauren John Joseph

At Certain Points We Touch is a novel about remembering the past, doomed love, and a millennial stumble through friendship and cities, as a writer tries to tell the story of their dead lover. A trans writer living in Mexico realises that it is the anniversary of the death of a man they loved, and starts to write the story of them, together and apart, and the messy, toxic, desperate affair they had.

This is a masterful novel, sharp and clever, that explores how we tell stories and what millennial queer life is like, almost haunted by the ghosts of previous queer culture in London, San Francisco, and New York. At times it feels like an older novel, but then it throws in modern references and muses on the longevity of digital culture, and you remember that this is recent. In fact, the parts about digital preservation were some of my favourite bits of writing in the book, musing on how a MySpace profile could endure if civilisations couldn’t.  

You know from the start that it is building towards Thomas James’ death, and you really understand how the narrator wants to hold off getting there and telling a death they weren’t there for as much as they want to unfold the story. The book is also a knowing wink towards writing and autofiction, considering what is memory and story even when something is meant to be ‘what happened’, but this is combined with exploits and community and stumbling into things whilst young in ways that stop it just feeling like a book about writing a book.

With an almost haunting sense of the recent past and grief, At Certain Points We Touch is a novel that really paints a portrait, not just of the narrator’s lover, but of the narrator themselves, of cities and bad rooms, and of growing up as a millennial and traversing different kinds of culture and community.