Blackouts by Justin Torres
Justin Torres' highly anticipated sophomore novel experiments with form to consider how we document and preserve queer histories
Blackouts, the long awaited second novel by Justin Torres, is about bringing queer histories out from the dark. It centres around an older man Juan Gay – who is dying in The Palace, a decaying institute in the desert – and his haunting conversations with an unnamed younger narrator.
The novel is innovative in its form, featuring numerous found texts, photographs and illustrations all the while blurring fact with fiction. “Right away, I felt the magnetism, the mystery of these books; a work of intense observation transformed into a work of erasure,” recounts the narrator. He will be charged with turning Juan’s story and documents into an academic monograph upon the older man’s death. The titular Blackouts might mean many things, be it psychological spells, lapses in memory, and the blacking out (or erasures) of very real queer lives who participated in a 1941 pseudo-scientific study Sex Variants: A Study in Homosexual Patterns.
Central to this is the amateur 20th-century queer historian, Jan Gay, whose expertise was co-opted by bad actors who exploited her connections to the queer underworld. As the novel unfolds, we learn more about real-life Jan Gay through Juan’s fading memories which are never quite objective but powerful for bringing this queer history to the forefront. This ambitious novel forces the reader to reflect on whose histories are shared and which are left decaying in the dark.