100 Boyfriends (2021)
Words by Catrin Brooke
100 Boyfriends (2021)
Brontez Purnell’s 100 Boyfriends is a transgressive, lewd, and devastatingly funny spiral into the imperfect lives of queer men, desperately fighting the hurdles modern-day society hands them. Purnell is a widely acclaimed underground filmmaker, writer, musician, performance artist and musician, who writes with the unrivalled ardour, insight, and horniness of a punk lord. Armed with a lethal deadpan humour, he forces his characters to climb their way out of even the lowest of times.
Purnell provides an irreverent, sensitive, and fantastically unhallowed look at gay dysfunction through the eyes of a cult hero. He writes characters who solicit sex on their lunch breaks, expose themselves to racist neighbours and sleep with their co-worker’s husbands. They also travel to claim inheritances, push past personal trauma, and cultivate community while living on the margins of an all-American, white supremacist, heteronormative society.
From dingy warehouses and gentrified bars in Oakland to derelict farm towns in Alabama, Purnell indexes desire, desperation, race, and loneliness with a startling blend of frivolity and vulnerability. Each short chapter is an introduction to another sexual escapade, as the narrator meets a man, they have sex, and other things happen. While it remains unclear just who the narrator is, this detail is unimportant because the point of the book is to satirize gay men and their sex, while also celebrating the fact that they get to have so much of it. It’s a biographical-fiction cum erotica mash-up.
The structure of these enclosed stories is often so that strangers collide, proceed to knock each other off-balance, and leave us with a fleeting sense of where their new path might direct them. It’s a blink of a relationship, a struggle of a power dynamic, and then they hustle themselves out before it gets serious. It’s a story of stories; of addictions and obsessions, jaded individuals and vulnerabilities, bitterness and loneliness. Purnell examines all with a beady eye and a candid, fearless realness.
In some cases, the men are fully aware that their lives are a mess, and yet they continue to self-sabotage. In others they are totally (and, at times, gleefully) unaware. The loping thread that runs through these stories is that these characters are all searching for something; for their next fix or their next hook-up, or perhaps for something more, something more profound and fulfilling. At times they find this temporary thing, but at other times, they’re still searching. Even when Purnell shocks you, there’s an underlying note of passion or emotion in many of the stories, which only increases their power.
Dazzlingly open, critical, and very honest, Purnell flitters between dark humour and emotional intimacy and we are taken on one hell of a ride through the tasks and sexualized tribulations of what it means to be a queer black man. 100 Boyfriends is a fast-moving, sucker-punch take on steering gay relationships while grounding yourself in the process. The writing here is fluid; Purnell’s fiction is astonishing. Offering an intimate and beautiful insight into the LGBTQA+ community, I would recommend it as a worthy read to anyone. A great book to help educate yourself and celebrate with this Pride Month, and every month.