Chris DiRaddo insists his debut novel, The Geography of Pluto, isn’t autobiographical. But the book is so sharply written and so full of insights into the human condition, it’s hard to believe that’s the truth. DiRaddo has crafted a fine book about one young gay man’s struggle to realize his first big relationship really is over while holding his mother’s hand as she struggles through a cancer diagnosis and treatment. Set in Montreal’s gay milieu in the 1990s, The Geography of Pluto is one of those books that gets better as you keep reading, a rare combination of thoughtful writing that’s also hugely entertaining. DiRaddo spoke to Xtra before his Montreal launch.
Xtra: What inspired this book?
Chris DiRaddo: Like most people, I’ve had my heart broken. The first time it happened I was 25, and I was floored at how deeply it affected me. I was naive and thought that love would last forever. It got me thinking about the other important things in my life and how impermanent they, too, might be. I’ve always been close with my mother. And even though she didn’t understand the gay thing at the beginning, she was always there for me — even when I was dumped. It made me petrified to think of losing her. So I started to write about these two kinds of relationships: how they are both great loves but in really different ways.
I also wanted to write about Montreal’s gay nightlife and what I saw in the ’90s. I learned so much about life in those dark boxes.
There’s a lot of romantic longing and anguish in the book. Do you think gay men are any more messed up about unrequited love than hets are?
Perhaps. I think that a lot of our relationships are built around fantasy. We grow up being attracted to those we can’t have, and by the time we’re old enough to pursue romantic relationships, we’ve learned how to hide our feelings. There’s a moment in the book where one of my characters wonders if there is a small part of us that is frozen. That maybe we feel unworthy of the love we seek, so we sabotage our happiness. I think that can definitely be true of some of the men I know, and that’s something I wanted to explore.
There’s a complex mom/gay son relationship in the book. How has your mom reacted to reading it?
She hasn’t read it yet. She’s waiting until after the launch. A part of me is nervous about what she’ll think. As I said, it’s not autobiographical — but I know she’ll see me in the main character.
Were there writers you were thinking about as you wrote this book? I see that Andrew Holleran gave you a lovely quote for the cover.
Andrew Holleran made me want to be a better writer. His book Dancer from the Dance had a huge impact on me. As a young gay man, I was always interested in queer history, but it always seemed unrelatable through the distance of time. That was until I read Dancer. Dancer told the story of a young man searching for a meaningful relationship in the bars and social scenes of New York City in the 1970s. My jaw dropped the first time I read it. He could have been talking about my Saturday night. Nothing had changed in all of those years. I thought, if I could even come close to doing with the ’90s what Holleran did with the ’70s, I’d die a happy man.