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Book of the Month – The Light Years

Our favourite pick for June 2019.

Chris Rush
Chris Rush. Photo by Mike Christy. Via Tucson.com

Our favourite pick for June 2019.

Some life stories are not for the faint of heart. We often dig into memoirs searching for stories of inspiration, tales of grand adventures or political maneuvers that changed history, but in The Light Years greatness is not so simple. Christopher Rush presents his reader with a winding story of struggle, redemption, and loss that alters the interior landscape of both author and reader, an intimate exchange that dives right to the heart of what it means to be worthy and loved.  

Rush begins his story right before the internal implosion that is puberty. Though it might sound absolutely withering to read a coming of age story that begins at the age of eleven, Rush’s life is so quirky, so unbelievable, that he captures you instantly. He introduces us to the wildness of his experiences slowly, presenting his wealthy, typical 1950s family with the adroit dryness of a survivor and the witty, sharp eye of Oscar Wilde’s long-lost son. At first his family seems normal, perhaps a bit strange in the way that all families are, but that initial good humor vanishes quickly. 

As Rush ages, his body, gender, sexuality pressing in on all sides, he begins to see the cracks lurking beneath his family’s finely polished veneer of happiness. His father, a successful business owner, drinks heavily and uses unequally heavy hand, his mother takes to her bed for days at a time, often popping out of it more paranoid than she went in. As it becomes increasingly clear that Rush is not like the rest of his siblings (perhaps the hot pink cape gave it away) his family begins to turn against him, his father crueler with each passing day, his mother more despairing, his brothers more ridiculing. His older sister is the brightest spot in his life, and she shelters him as best she can by getting him out of the house, eventually taking him with her to visit her boyfriend, who also happens to be a drug dealer.

His first gay experience at school results in his expulsion

The refuge of their friendship is the first safety he has known, and he quickly falls under their influence, a child longing for acceptance among teenagers. He takes acid before he enters high school, and it isn’t long before he begins dealing drugs at his private Catholic school where his mother ships him off to be out of his father’s reach. It is impressed upon Rush again and again, tacitly and literally, that no one wants him. His first gay experience at school results in his expulsion, severing the ties with the first friends he has yet had, and this further rejection sends him on a spiral, taking more and more drugs until he eventually begins living with his sister and her husband, who are now drug dealing full time.  

The bizarre, unpredictable nature of Rush’s life takes its toll as he is shuttled from school to school, home to home, relationship to relationship as everyone he loves and relies on becomes less stable. His upbringing in Catholicism and his rampant, constant psychedelic use begin to overlap as he desperately searches for a sense of purpose and belonging in a world that only seems to want to destroy him for the way that he takes space, to abandon him because his pent-up earnestness marks him out as other.  

It takes years, homelessness, losing his mind, finding it again, for Rush to come back into his body and to a sense of peace. His memoir is hilarious, dark, profound, but it is not a light-hearted read. Rush writes his agony and ecstasy beautifully, baring his soul and his search for love with heartbreaking vulnerability. No matter how often he is rebuffed, attacked, turned away, he returns to the world with his hands open, searching for light and seeking the God that lies dormant in each of us. He is incredibly courageous and hopeful, taking the brutal treatment handed to him with resilience and empathy, and the telling of his journey makes for breathtaking reading.  

It takes the entirety of his youth for him to find sobriety at long last, and with it the love he had been searching for all along. Rush now lives in New York where he is a gallery artist, and I write that sentence with the pride of a surrogate parent, with the pleasure of someone who, just through reading his story, feels as though they know and love him. That feeling of warmth is a testament to his writing prowess and the tenderness of his story that ropes you in and elevates your soul long after you turn the final page.

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Kelsey Capps is a writer and Reader in Residence at The Wild Detectives. Her short stories and reviews have been mentioned in a variety of publications including Hobo Pancakes, Literary Hub, and The Guardian, and she is finishing her second novel. You can follow her work and current reads on Instagram at @readwritethecraft.

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