Josh Kilmer-Purcell is convinced you won’t like his second book: Candy Everybody Wants. He states this in the ‘PS’ section in the back of the book, which contains some ‘behind the scenes’ extras. He assumes this partly because everybody will be comparing it to the first book and people will tend to find it either too similar or too different. Also, he has jumped genres, so he fears the public won’t know what to make of it. His first book – I Am Not Myself These Days – was a ‘memoir in drag’, a mostly true autobiographical story, slightly fictionalized under creative license. It describes a time in Josh’s life when he hoisted himself into elaborate and uncomfortable drag outfits and livened up New York’s club scene as AquaDisiac, a character whose trademark was a set of plastic breasts in which live goldfish swam. He drank amazing amounts of alcohol, regularly waking up in unfamiliar surroundings next to unfamiliar people. During the day he somehow managed to function at an advertising agency. Josh then ran into Jack, a male s&m escort who would end up developing a drug problem. The core of the book is their strangely sweet but doomed affair. The tale is very well-written, with ironic detachment and with a sharp wit always at the ready.
Candy Everybody Wants is a novel which, according to Josh, describes his childhood the way he wished it had happened. A young gay kid with Hollywood ambitions finds himself surrounded by a ‘family’ of oddball characters and flirts with fame when he gets cast for a successful commercial. In accordance with Josh’s expectations, I have to admit I liked this book a little less. The story is front-loaded with the introduction of most of the strange cast and then the slightly overwrought plot takes over. The overall feeling is that Josh is trying too hard to be interesting and quirky. The characters either don’t get any real room to develop or are developed in ways that serve the plot first and foremost. It doesn’t help that the main character is self-involved and calculating. This might be necessary for his emotional arc throughout the book, but the change does not go far enough to make him very likeable.
There are some themes that make a subtle comeback in Josh’ second book: prostitution, drugs and a craving for attention are present again. But the tone remains light this time and several unbelievable plot twists and coincidences distance the story too much from reality to really worry about what happens to the cast: a ‘deus ex machina’ seems to be lurking around the corner.
It might be mostly my expectations that let me down: I Am Not Myself These Days was an insightful psychological journey that resonated with me and that I might even read again some day. Candy Everybody Wants by comparison is fun fluff that doesn’t delve very deep. It is – however – a perfect book to take with you on a sunny summer holiday. Even below his peak and without see-through breasts, Josh ultimately does not fail to entertain.