Our latest Notable Narrative plays a wonderful game of fulfilling expectations in surprising ways. In the January 2010 issue of Details, Rick Moody’s “The Amazing Tale of the High School Quarterback Turned Lesbian Filmmaker” uses a bait-and-switch approach to write about a transgendered person on the verge of attending her 20th high school reunion.
The title evokes a tradition in which sideshow oddities and wonders are used to titillate readers and draw them in, a tradition not entirely unfamiliar to journalists. Novelist and blogger Moody slides elegantly into his story, using “us” in the first paragraph to join the crowd of readers watching what will happen as Kimberly Reed meets up with Paul McKerrow, her high school identity.
Moody later cuts to the first person (“let me pause to observe”) when recording his personal reaction to Reed’s beauty. This clever move offers a hint that we might want to check our own responses.
It turns out that two McKerrow children graduated in the class of 1985—Paul (now Kimberly) and her brother, Marc, who was adopted. Adding another layer of tension to the upcoming reunion, Moody relates that early challenges and a later accident have made Marc’s life even more complicated than Kimberly’s. Combining surprise links to Hollywood royalty with Mark’s ongoing efforts to handle everyday life, Moody shows us how identity is both changing and fixed, and how the boundary between the very strange and the absolutely normal may not exist.
As the story turns back to the high school reunion, Moody manages to draw all his elements together and make each part relevant. The piece reveals a different kind of spectacle than readers might have tuned in for, yet more of a reunion in every sense of the word: a meeting, an encounter with the past, a family gathering, a making whole of the self.
[Prodigal Sons, Kimberly Reed’s award-winning film about her family life, will be shown in a number of U.S. cities in the coming months.]