A cranky teen rebel crosses libidos with his housemates
“Reasons for the rejections were all over the map,” the 33-year old author told me. “Some said it was too gay, some said too literary, and some said too commercial.” According to Rauscher, even the gay presses wouldn’t touch it. Yet the reviews, mostly from the deeper recesses of the blogosphere, have been glowing.
Sad to say, but these days it appears that traditional publishers don’t have the budget, know-how, or the balls, to market such a scrappy, rather baffling story that defies a neat niche. “The Unborn Spouse Situation,” which sounds like a moniker for a doomed garage band, surely resists categorization.
The skinny, 22-year old protagonist Augie Schoenberg—more of an antagonist, really—is a Jew who ignores his religion, a homo who’s clueless about how to be gay, and an aspiring filmmaker in a college without a film program. He’s supposedly the only gay guy in Harley Hutt, the dilapidated, anti-frat party house on campus.
I suspect that some publishers didn’t make it past the first page, where Augie meets his “I’m not gay” housemate, Victor, who begs him on the spot to strip down and swap the boxer shorts they are wearing (a bonding thing, apparently). This exchange follows a quote by Emily Dickinson.
How ironic that Rauscher’s borderline churlish refusal to be pigeonholed is precisely what sets the work apart from the usual angst-sodden queer teen fare. In the novel, set near the author’s stomping grounds in and around Chicago, Rauscher toys with the limits of labels, especially the dreaded “faggot” moniker.
For example, he describes his housemates’ spooge-shooting contests while watching pussy porn as “homoerotic,” though in my book such antics belong in the homosexual column. Victor clearly has the hots for Augie on some level, but marries a young woman he barely knows anyway. Spanning the full spectrum of sexual appetites, Rauscher’s world throbs with horn-dogs and errant erections, and it’s refreshingly titillating.
At times, however, the novel is as exasperating as Augie himself, who is sweetly likable yet pig-headed. In his best Holden Caulfield imitation, he laments about being a misfit, yet emerges at his own house party dressed as Marilyn Monroe—and it isn’t Halloween. One night out on the town, he wears an ancient T-shirt with yellow pit stains and wonders why nobody wants to be his soul mate.
You don’t know whether to hug or hit the guy.
The biting, comic tale has all the right ingredients for a juicy bestseller—sex, marriage, suicide, terminal illness, intrigue—yet lacks the requisite polish. Clearly, the novel could have benefited from a proper editor, who might have advised Rauscher to flesh out the roommates’ personas a bit more. He gorges us with lovingly detailed penis descriptions—Augie sneaks peeks in their open-plan bathroom—but leaves us hungry for character development.
And while the story is set in 1995, there are scant period elements, save for a cursory mention of President Clinton. Computers seem to be nearly nonexistent at their Illinois University, and, curiously, Augie denies knowing a thing about them.
Yet “Unborn Spouse” is more than a mere fascination with college boys gone wild. Rauscher does have something to say, much of it derived from personal experience. He derides barbaric yet still practiced rituals, such as male circumcision and arranged marriages for Indian- Americans. He abhors the Greek fraternity system that worships conformity and its ultimate product, mediocrity.
The introspective work, which makes use of the first-person narrative to soul-wrenching effect, pulsates with a rare, unsettlingly raw energy that a traditional press might have drained out.
Toward the end of the novel, Augie chides one of his sexually ambivalent housemates.
“You’re hard to read. And you’re inconsistent. If you were a character in my screenplay, I’d give you an F.”
Odds are this is what potential publishers thought when considering Rauscher’s work. But taking into account the strangely alluring feist factor, I give it a B+.