Will Ambrose is a 28-year-old geography teacher. He’s gay. His boyfriend Max has dumped him. His closest relationship is with his mother, who is devoted to him. His best friend, Angie, is a lesbian who appears to have slept with every woman in Montreal. Christopher DiRaddo’s first novel opens at Christmas 2006, and shuffles back and forth through Will’s life, focusing particularly on his challenges in the area of love, both romantic and familial.
DiRaddo does an excellent job illustrating how Will comes to terms with his homosexuality, sensitively showing how alone a teenage boy can feel when he knows he is different from the majority of his schoolmates, who tend to either pick on him or ignore him. A movie Will watches on television helps him in his quest to learn about himself and his desires, and Angie becomes the companion he desperately needs. She introduces him to Montreal’s gay community and also befriends his mother.
An only child whose father died when he was two, Will is firmly linked to his mother; while Will can be accused of being a momma’s boy, DiRaddo convincingly conveys the beauty of their bond. When Mrs. Ambrose is diagnosed with colon cancer, Will’s world fragments. The way mother and son deal with the devastating illness seems utterly realistic and appropriate to their characters.
The Geography of Pluto contains much heartache, but DiRaddo also includes humour, mainly via Angie, who has a big personality to match her big heart. When Will hesitates over taking his mother to a production of Cats, Angie tells him, “You’re a disgrace to your people, Will.” DiRaddo plays with stereotypes about gay people, and he never shies away from complexity. While the novel occasionally slips into didacticism and stilted dialogue, it tells a heartfelt story about a young man trying to find his place in the world.