Maria Cichosz’s debut novel – the first in a projected series – brims with theory and tension. Cam and Beau are long-time best friends and roommates living in Toronto at the beginning of the 21st century. They are tender-hearted stoners whose lives are inextricable from one another. Their devotion is incredibly sweet in the manner of a classic pairing: the tortured silent one and the partially oblivious one. Cam’s reluctance to admit romantic feelings for Beau is put to the test when a mutual friend intervenes by insisting to Cam that Beau shares the same feelings. The resulting narrative is a character-driven, emotionally bumpy ride.
Cichosz weaves literary theory and depictions of smoky, drug-drenched rooms with ease. Cam and Beau are each associated with a particular text by the French structuralist Roland Barthes, and the novel is heavily steeped in the theories of thinkers such as Barthes and Michel Foucault. The third-person narration works well, alternating between Cam’s and Beau’s experiences – both independently and in tandem – and adding depth and gravity to their story.
The various ways in which boundaries blur or harden between friends and lovers are meticulously examined and reminiscent of Dionne Brand’s What We All Long For: Cichosz’s novel, about young people just trying to eke out an existence in Toronto amid ongoing personal and external crises, has a punchy, complex, youthful tone.
Some aspects of the book feel oddly artificial, especially regarding Cliff, the drug-dealer friend who never demands money for supplying a tremendous amount of drugs. The representation of one of the only women in the novel veers slightly into academic, manic-pixie-dream-girl territory. She is portrayed as an enemy or punching bag, a reductive presentation that seems out of place given the expansive portrayals of the title characters.
Nonetheless, it’s refreshing to read a fast-paced, highly dramatic novel about queerish characters. Cam & Beau includes many intense hurdles and ill-informed decisions, but the story always manages to allow its protagonists to find solace and safety regardless.