The kind of guy who mists his face with Evian to beat the heat and prefers paisley pants to jeans, author Robert Leleux finds coming of age on a lavish east Texas horse ranch in the early '90s a surreal life.
“The Memoirs of a Beautiful Boy”
by Robert Leleux
St. Martin’s Press, 272 pp., $23.95
The kind of guy who mists his face with Evian to beat the heat and prefers paisley pants to jeans, author Robert Leleux finds coming of age on a lavish east Texas horse ranch in the early ’90s a surreal life. At 16, he lives for the weekly escapes to Houston with his flamboyant mother, Jessica, speeding in her white Jaguar and blasting Blondie tapes en route to Neiman Marcus for their weekly hair and manicure appointments.
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“The Memoirs of a Beautiful Boy,” Leleux’s first book, is both a wickedly funny and tender account of his adoring relationship with his eccentric mother and her self-absorbed antics that put him ” … across the border of Traumatized and into the land of the Hysterical,” he writes.
The abrupt departure of his father, who moves into a lopsided trailer with his pregnant mistress, leaves teenager Robert and his mother facing nouveau poverty in their small town of Petunia, which Jessica refers to as ” … Where God Stuck The Enema.” To offset their ill fortune, Jessica dutifully returns cashmere suits and Ferragamo pumps in exchange for lunch credit at Saks — then embarks on a mission of self-enhancement to find a rich husband. Robert is her loyal, baffled accomplice as she endures discount lip implants and has a yellow synthetic wig glued to her scalp at a strip-mall salon. Soon she is husband-hunting at wealthy Houston churches and Republican luncheons. Her mission eventually accomplished via several bizarre courtships, she moves to California with a wealthy swinger, leaving Robert on his own quest for escape.
Playing the lead in a community theater production of “West Side Story” lands Robert literally in the arms of a charming 25-year-old choreographer, Michael Leleux (from whom Robert takes his last name), and their love affair is instant. The Leleux household, an extended group of Cajun Catholic characters, embraces Robert, moving him into their home, which looks like a “Knights of Columbus Hall” and where ” … some of Michael’s sisters have children like they where trying to preserve the Grimaldi throne.” Despite a series of unfortunate jobs, including chief glazer of pork products at the Honey Ham Sandwich Shop, Robert’s devotion to Michael and the long-distance invasions of his mother keep him afloat as the couple eventually navigate their way from Texas suburbs to married life in Manhattan.
Leleux, now a creative-writing teacher in New York, prefaces the book with the lyric, “A hat’s not a hat till it’s tilted,” freely admitting embellishments in a narrative sufficiently outrageous as is. These hyperboles are transparent and heavy-handed, and throw the writing off balance. Like those Texas recipes for biscuits made of boxed pancake batter and pot roast cooked in Coca Cola, it’s too much at times, but ridiculously tasty in small bites.