I’ve known for a while that Paris is Burning is a must-see and I’ve always meant to see it but now that mean to is a will because damn this book is really good. Based on the real life House Xtravaganza immortalized in Paris, The House of Impossible Beauties absolutely transports you. I really, deeply enjoyed this book. It’s a rough read, but worth it.
I also very recently finally saw To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything so in my head the character of Venus was actually John Leguizamo as Chi Chi. The visual implanted fast and just stuck.
To oversimplify everything, House is about a self-made family of Puerto Rican drag queens in Manhattan in the 80s. Angel and her dearly beloved, dearly departed Hector were mother and father to the House Xtravaganza, one of the first families for Latinx drag queens. After Hector passed (this is 80s, AIDS is its own character), Angel adopts Venus, Juanito, and Daniel, and both as a family unit and separately, they navigate life.
This is a hard read – life for gay and trans people is still not easy today, much less 30 years ago. But building a house and a family like this made things a little less hard. There is tragedy in abundance, but also a group of very determined individuals very determined to make it through and make it matter. It’s a beautiful, flawed book about beautiful, flawed people.
The book is more about these people’s day-to-day lives than it is about the broader world of drag and balls, which is a bit of a switch from how it’s marketed, but I was okay with that. It does jump narrators a lot and without warning, but I adapted. One character, who I loved, very rapidly went down a very dark path I did not anticipate or understand, really, which was disappointing. Overall, good book.