Let Me See It Reviews

Baltimore City Paper
“Best of 2014”
Best Short Story Collection

“ … Magruder adroitly mingles tales of Tom’s and Elliott’s sexual misadventures with the hilarious nightmares than only come with family relationships, and he does it in writing that folds mordant observations into poetic image. As entertaining and ribald as it is elegiac and devastating.”
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“By turns comic and melancholy in tone but always razor-sharp in its insights.”

—Kirkus, 6/17/14

“In this witty, elegiac collection of linked stories, Magruder (Sugarless) traces the paths of two gay cousins, Tom Amelio and Elliott Biddler, as they grow up in the Midwest and eventually become wised-up, crisis-addled adults. Spanning 1971 to 1992, and set in cities ranging from Madison, Wis., to Paris, the collection captures a critical chapter in gay history. The innocent crushes and clumsy sexual forays we witness in early stories (“Tenochtitlán,” “Use Your Head”) give way to darker entries (“Elliott Biddler’s Vie Bohème,” “Elbows and Legs”), in which the cousins, entering adulthood in the ’80s, begin to feel the threat of AIDS. Despite this occasionally morbid background, Magruder’s tales are consistently light-footed. “Buccellati” finds Elliott, “the first to take his shirt off on the dance floor,” and Tom, a “working stiff,” navigating gay romance in New York, while “Mistress of the Revels,” a perfect, acrid portrait of theater life, allows Magruder to put his experience as a playwright to use. Though each story can be read as a standalone, the collection works better as a chronological whole, bringing to light the finer nuances of the cousins’ development. Magruder’s poetic insights—a gravely ill Elliott’s face resembles “a battered wasps’ nest”—are offset by his tendency to bow tie stories with too-tidy conclusions. But this collection—especially its final, tragic entry—will leave readers moved.”

Publisher’s Weekly, 4.28.14 [starred review]

“Much of the poignant beauty of Magruder’s book hinges on the very different ways the two young men confront their sexuality and the crises and consequences that await them in adulthood.… Elliott Biddler’s 1980’s are almost unbearably harrowing for reflecting the blitheness with which so many entered into a decade that would snuff out those lights that burned brightest for beauty and for love. And Tom’s devotion to him reminds us of how family (chosen, un-chosen, or both) can sustain us through our worst sufferings.”

—Lambda Literary [8/5/14]

“The ten elegantly wrought and connected stories follow Tom and Elliot from their boyhoods to Elliot’s final year in Paris, where he retreats seeking alternative treatment for AIDS and a poet’s death. Each entry is a world unto itself, told variously in third and first person and offering deeper insight into a disjointed family whose whole saga remains a mystery to the final pages. A follow-up to Magruder’s debut novel Sugarless (2009), Let Me See It offers a vivid snapshot of love and loss during the initial AIDS era, as well as its overlooked legacy today. The book joins a spate of plays and films that are returning to that moment, including the revival and HBO film of Larry Kramer’sThe Normal Heart and Terrence McNally’s recent Broadway play, Mothers and Sons.”

Austin Chronicle [7/11/14]

“These sometimes melancholy, character-driven stories invite reflection as they examine the intersection of love and sex in a gay milieu rooted in the time and place of their well-realized settings.”

—Booklist

“Magruder is a gifted storyteller and Let Me See It is necessary reading for the way it depicts the past, in all of its brutal and beautiful glory, and connects it to the present.”

—GuyMag [7/25/14]

“Of the two, Elliott is the clown who jumps (literally) into his lovers’ beds. Tom is more cautious and determined to be a good boy and follow the rules. They are familiar types. Reading it, you will probably enjoy Elliott’s company more, but fear you’re actually like Tom.”

Chicago Reader [7/18/14]

“There are few authors who write with as much sensitivity and tenderness as James Magruder; he has a way of finding something beautiful in the most heartbreaking moments. In Let Me See It, he presents us with two unforgettable characters, Elliott and Tom, first cousins, and it is a testament to Magruder’s skill that he makes their coming of age feel so familiar and yet so uniquely specific. Like the fate of the model of the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan, made out of sugar cubes, which appears in the opening chapter, you fear the characters’ lives will be swept away by some great unhappiness, but you cannot help but marvel at the gleaming beauty of the moments that lead you to it. With sharp touches of humor, this is a marvel of a story.”

—Kevin Wilson, The Family Fang

Let Me See It overflows with honesty, hilarity, and heart. It’s impossible not to love this book, impossible to turn away from its brilliant prose, wicked humor, and utterly engaging characters.”

—Jessica Anya Blau, Drinking Closer to Home

“James Magruder manages a neat trick of math: his tale of two cousins, over two decades, yields a portrait of one whole gay generation. Each trajectory builds its own drama, which makes their intersection all the more affecting. Broad and deep, witty and wistful, Let Me See It is a work of subtle strength.”

—Michael Lowenthal, Charity Girl

“James Magruder’s sparkling, witty, and deeply moving Let Me See Itdemonstrates his prodigious gifts as a storyteller and a prose wizard. Magruder perceives the world with a keen, subtle eye, yet writes about it with a grand, masterly flair.”

—Aaron Hamburger, The View Inside Stalin’s Head

“A tale of two gay cousins, Let Me See It is beautifully written and sharply observed. Often hilarious, it delivers an ending that continues to resonate. Be prepared to laugh out loud and get misty-eyed. Magruder has written that rare, wonderful beast: a comic gem with an emotional punch.”

—Bob Smith, Remembrance of Things I Forgot

“Let Me See It is psychologically rich, erotic, disturbing, subversive, irreverent, and witty as hell.  Occasionally evocative of a (gay, or sometimes-gay) Steve Almond, Magruder is among the ranks of our finest interrogators of contemporary American sexuality and identity.”

—Gina Frangello, A Life in Men

“Let Me See It exquisitely captures the texture of boyness and its evolution into the vast and bewildering landscape of adulthood. I loved being in the grasp of stories so alight with lust and danger and longing and loss, just as I loved Elliott and Tom—two remarkably complex and empathetic protagonists. From the first page, I fell headlong into their world and by the last, I was so very sad to leave it.”

—Laura van den Berg, Isle of Youth