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Come Back

by Sky Gilbert

The work of Sky Gilbert has long exemplified the concept of novel as autobiography. But in Come Back, the queer author and playwright’s sixth novel, this idea takes its most explicit form yet. In accessible and humorous prose, Gilbert addresses questions of celebrity, aging, and sexual identity, drawing on his own experience and a fantastical reimagining of the life of the original modern gay icon.

Set in the year 2050, the story is told from the point of view of Judy Garland (née Frances Gumm), who did not actually die, but is now a 138-year-old feminist academic. Gumm’s longevity is attributed to multiple liver transplants and futuristic medical technologies that have turned humans into a panoply of perverse-looking cyborgs. She lives in Toronto, which is part of the Muslim-run Modern Ottoman Empire.

Gumm becomes obsessed with a gay writer and drag queen named Dash King, whose life story is that of Gilbert himself. (With the exception of King’s demise from a heart attack provoked by an overdose of the sex drug amyl nitrate.) Come Back consists of a series of long-distance communications between Gumm and a woman named Johnny, her long-time friend and Ph.D. thesis adviser. The reader is only exposed to Gumm’s side of the correspondence with the stern and seemingly judgmental Johnny, who is also apparently a sexual dominant.

In addition to chronicling King’s turbulent transition from playwright to academic, Gumm muses about her present immersion in academic theory and her troubled past as a drunken, drug-addicted Hollywood star. While her ruminations on the perils of poststructuralism are a bit slow-going, there are flashes of humour throughout – particularly when Gumm reminisces about her time at MGM, including memories of well-endowed Munchkins on the set of The Wizard of Oz.

This occasionally digressive novel is light on straightforward plot development, yet a curious portrait emerges of an unconsummated sadomasochistic love triangle involving Gumm, Johnny, and the dead drag queen. Featuring a unique narrative voice and rich character development, Come Back is a clever, thoughtful, and thoroughly imaginative read.


Reviewer: Shawn Syms

Publisher: ECW Press


Price: $18.95

Page Count: 212 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 978-1-77041-049-7

Released: May

Issue Date: 2012-6

Categories: Fiction: Novels