Beyond Happiness:
Intimate Memoirs Of Billy Lee Belle

by Peter McGehee,
ISBN: 1550500503

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Brief Reviews - Fiction
by Daniel Jones

Peter McGehee was 35 when he died of AIDS-related causes. Until now, his first book, Beyond Happiness: The Intimate Memoirs of Billy Lee Belle (Coteau, 96 pages, $12.95 paper), had long been out of print. Originally published in 1985 by Stubblejumper Press - a small press operated by McGehee's long-time companion, Douglas Wilson - Beyond Happiness displays the comic genius that manifested itself in McGehee's later work.

Beyond Happiness began as a theatrical performance, and the writing loud, explosive, and wickedly funny owes much to its origins. Narrated by Billy Lee Belle, these 11 monologues follow his attempts to define and assert his sexuality, from childhood until, as an adult, he leaves for Canada with his lover, Dennis.

Billy Lee must also come to terms with his family. Inhabitants of Little Rock, Arkansas, they are rooted in Southern traditions and prejudices. They are also hilariously eccentric. At a family dinner, Billy Lee's Aunt CIO announces: "I think it's time I drive myself home. Yes, I am impaired. But never mind, Jesus will guide me."

Billy Lee's love-hate relationship with his family becomes evident in a conversation with his cousin Lynnie:

I uttered words I had always dreaded hearing myself speak. "We are family."

Out of nowhere, something real ill-like came over me. I fell to the ground and threw up on her feet.

Beyond Happiness is a delightful book about one man's attempts to find love and happiness, written at a time when the effects of HIV and AIDS had only begun to be known.


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