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Coming out is complicated. Not only is it loaded and highly personal, it also comes with a full set of social expectations: the passing from one identity to another, one community to another. What’s more is that coming out doesn’t function the same way for everyone; many choose not to come out at all. However, the literature and media that discusses coming out in a nuanced way does a great service to the queer community: it normalizes the complexity of it. It makes visible the internal struggle. And nuanced narratives also, as is the case with Kate Davies’ inaugural novel In at the Deep End, reflect the ways in which coming out involves a great many intersecting conversations, at the crux of which is what kind of queer ARE you?
Meet Julia: a newly out lesbian living in very gay London. Julia, dissatisfied with her sexual experiences with straight men, figures out her queerness and, within a matter of weeks, becomes involved in a polyamorous, kinky relationship with an abusive dom named Sam. The novel swings from sex party to sex party, with Julia new and confused and anxious in the middle of it. “Now, though—now being queer seemed positively aspirational. The world felt very different from the one I’d lived in as a teenager. Then, same-sex couples couldn’t marry, and teachers had failed to step in when kids called each other “fag” and “dyke” in the back rows of classrooms, and when people came out, they’d labelled themselves: gay, lesbian, bi. Everything felt more fluid now.”
The beauty of this novel is not the copious amounts of beautiful queer intimacy, though that’s also a validating and important part of it. Rather, the beauty of this novel is how adeptly Davies captures the surreal experience of coming out and being out of one’s depth—and she manages to do it with humility and a good deal of humor, to boot. It’s challenging to capture the all-encompassing obsession of first-time queer love, the hold of abusive power dynamics, and to do so with a light touch. This is Davies first novel and is billed as the “gay Bridget Jones”—but it’s more than that. And how could it not be more than that, when queer intimacy is so much more complicated than even Mr. Darcy’s hot and cold charms?
We need stories like these in the world. We need raw stories of how challenging and fun and beautiful and complicated and obsessive this love can be. We need visibility for abuse within queer relationships. And we need levity, for God’s sake, we do. Thank goodness this novel exists. We can expect great things from Kate Davies.
In at the Deep End
By Katie Davies
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Hardcover, 9781328629678, 336 pp.