Sugarless: A Novel

( 4 )

Overview

Things look bad for Rick Lahrem, a high school sophomore in a cookie-cutter Chicago suburb in 1976. His mother’s second husband is a licensed psychologist who eats like an ape, his stepsister is a stoner slut, and his father is engaged to a Southern belle. Rick’s only solace is his growing collection of original Broadway-cast LPs, bought on the sly at Wax Trax.
    After he brings two girls in speech class to tears by reading a story aloud, Rick is coaxed onto the...

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Overview

Things look bad for Rick Lahrem, a high school sophomore in a cookie-cutter Chicago suburb in 1976. His mother’s second husband is a licensed psychologist who eats like an ape, his stepsister is a stoner slut, and his father is engaged to a Southern belle. Rick’s only solace is his growing collection of original Broadway-cast LPs, bought on the sly at Wax Trax.
    After he brings two girls in speech class to tears by reading a story aloud, Rick is coaxed onto the interscholastic forensics team to perform an eight-minute dramatic interpretation of The Boys in the Band, the controversial sixties play about homosexuality. Unexpectedly successful at this oddball event, Rick begins winning tournaments and making friends with his teammates.
    Rick also discovers the joys of sex—with a speech coach from a rival school—just as his mother, reacting to a deteriorating home environment, makes an unnerving commitment to Christ. The newly confident Rick assumes this too shall pass—until the combined forces of family, sex, and faith threaten to undo him at the state meet in Peoria.
    James Magruder’s Sugarless offers a ruefully entertaining take on the simultaneous struggles of coming-out, coming-of-age, and coming-to-Jesus.

 

 

A selection of InsightOut Book Club

 

Finalist, Lambda Book Award for Gay Debut Fiction, Lambda Literary Foundation

 

Finalist, TLA Gaybie Award for Best Gay Fiction

 

Semi-finalist, James Branch Cabell First Novelist Award, Virginia Commonwealth University

 

Semi-finalist, William Saroyan International Prize For Writing, Stanford University

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this fascinating 1970s coming-of-age story, playwright and translator Magruder introduces readers to Rick Lahrem, a high school sophomore struggling with his sexuality, his loneliness and his new stepfamily. His only solace is the Broadway LPs he buys at the local record store, but when he's coaxed into joining his school's speech team, he finally discovers something he's successful at and a group of friends who actually seem to care about him. Then one day, while record shopping, he meets Ned Bolang, a speech coach from a rival high school, and a sexual affair ensues just as Rick's mother is finding Christ, an irony not lost on the reader. Rick and Ned's relationship is nuanced and complicated: Rick views Ned as the one person who can make him happy, but is the older Ned exploiting his young lover? While this novel may be about a homosexual relationship in the 1970s, the story captures the struggles of teenagers, straight and gay, of every generation. (Oct.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780299233808
  • Publisher: University of Wisconsin Press
  • Publication date: 10/22/2009
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 274
  • Sales rank: 1,492,353
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

James Magruder is a playwright and award-winning translator who lives in Baltimore. He wrote the book for the Broadway musical Triumph of Love and has published stories in Bloom, Subtropics, and The Gettysburg Review. He teaches at Swarthmore College and the Yale School of Drama. This is his first novel.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 30, 2009

    Amazing. Funny, sharp, and moving.

    Normally, I don't find coming of age books that interesting, especially gay coming of age stories which are so often badly written. But I saw this book and it had a big love letter-type blurb from Tony Kushner so I figured I would give it a shot. Now I have one more reason to admire Tony Kushner--his taste in books. Sugarless is heartbreaking and funny and moving all at the same time. It all feels so real. When I read this, I felt like I understood all the painful truths that are happening. I love how the main character Richard seems at first so insecure but is actually so strong and takes responsibility for his actions including his plunging into a love affair that would seem from the outside to be inappropriate. I couldn't help but think of the TV show Glee when I read this book as I learned all about the world of speech competitions in high school which I didn't know even existed. But this is so much more interesting and though it is a coming of age book, it is certainly a true adult novel. One that makes you think, makes you care about the characters and what happens to them, and one that really made me glad I read it. And I really like the author's sense of humor that comes through loud and clear--it's a little prickly and sharp, kind of like a big laugh that pokes you at the same time. I've already given this book to 2 friends who have told me they loved it also.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 12, 2010

    A Journey Back to High School -- Darker than GLEE!

    The scope of this story covers the agony and humor of family dynamics and the coming of age of the bright and tortured Richard -- who finds solace and the competition he craves in Speech Team. The writing is sharp and incisive, rich and detailed characters pepper the entire book. Get it -- read it -- talk about it.

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  • Posted April 8, 2010

    "Sugarless" by James Magruder

    "Sugarless" by James Magruder offers a very real, very raw look at the confusing journey Rick Lahrem, the novel's protagonist, takes as he tries to come to terms with his sexuality. His world is one of hushed conflict, with a divorcée mother and a disgusting stepfather, a burnout half-sister, and a community of devout Christians all trying to contend with one another. When he is offered the chance to perform a controversial piece about homosexuality, Rick finds himself and his world transformed.
    An excellent read for anyone, regardless of sexual preference, and a touching look at the inner turmoil of a young newly-realized homosexual man. Readers will find themselves enthralled by Magruder's witty plot, and drawn to his very real characters. In a society where homosexuality still causes much controversy, "Sugarless" asks readers to look at the human side of the issue. Without a doubt, this is a powerful novel that should make a home on every readers' shelf.

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  • Posted September 10, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Sweet, intelligent coming-of-age story from talented author

    Rick Lahrem is a rather nondescript mid-1970's high school sophomore, in a nondescript Chicago suburb, who spends most of his spare time listening to Broadway-cast albums. His ability to "blend in" is a coping mechanism, to avoid attention at school (which he fears might result in him being outed as gay) and to avoid making waves in his rather dysfunctional family, consisting of a psychologist stepfather who is a slob, his stoner stepsister, and a mother in denial about her not-so-"happy" home. It all changes for Rick the day that he gives a dramatic reading in Speech class, which results in bringing some students to tears, and puts him on the teachers' "radar" to join the school team that competes in dramatic interpretation competitions. And it starts to really unravel when he is assigned a dramatic scene from the gay-themed play "The Boys in the Band."

    Surprisingly, Rich steps up to the challenges that face him, and does very well in the competitions. He also explores his sexual fantasies, with a speech coach from a rival school, dangerously about the same time as his mother is "born again" as a devout Bible-thumping Christian.

    A talented first-time novelist presents a sweet, witty and well-written coming-of-age story, featuring realistic, fully-nuanced characters and situations (including the relationship with the older man). Worthy of a full five disco stars out of five!

    - Bob Lind, Echo Magazine

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