BOOK REVIEW: First Time for Everything by Henry Fry

April 22, 2023

Review: Eric Page

First Time for Everything

Henry Fry

Fry has a wicked tongue and there’s some deliciously daft set pieces which build up to laugh out loud moments, but as with all good humour there’s some serious attempts at deep insight into the modern gay male experience and feeling here too, and I liked the switch between comedy and pathos that the book offers up, a proper queer lens on avoiding being queer.

One evening the world collapses around our protagonist, Danny, and as he presses against the walls of his reality, most of them crumble into grey, mouldy, dead dust, it seems like there’s nothing or no one he can trust, that life cant’ get any worse, that the things he defined himself by are lies. He’s not a happy bunny about this. Newly single, homeless he reaches out to an old friend Jacob, who takes him in to his London Queer Commune. But even in his late 20s, he’s struggling to figure out who he is and who he wants to be. For someone who would rather tend to his houseplants than mingle at a house party, those questions feel overwhelming.

As Danny start to explore, and we learn more about him, it’s clear he’s not such a  nice person, but let’s cut him some slack on that, as his friends mostly unconditionally do. We meet a range of homo’s, queers, nonbinary and gender divergent folx, and share in the delirious adventures of their lives as the protagonist is cast out of his gaslighting seemingly dull gay relationship, evicted  by his selfish flatmates and ends up moving in with an fabulously Queer old friend, this shifts his small minded, cast down gaze to a different way of being and opens himself up the opportunities that life sassily wafts underneath his suddenly sensitive nose.

His meta references, via texts, Dear Dolly diary, messaging and memes are strung through the book offer us a gay noir feeling of brutal emotional honesty all wrapped up in Tinsel and Dolly Partonesque soft lighting, it’s a cool range for the books emotional palate and certainly reflect the experiences, tone and conversational bon mots of many young British queer men.  Social media, clashing with vintage documentary references, supercut with meta Drag, and some point perfect Grey Gardens embellishment. I loved Jacob acting out Little Eddie, and knowing quite what a STAUNCH women would do. Offering insight into the acidic damage of shame, internalised homophobia and just plain dislike of yourself to a crawling shuddering acceptance of glad to be gay, full on Gloriaiana, it’s quite the narrative journey.  Danny’s friends and lovers are original, fabulous people, with love and decadent fun in their lives, the odd tragedy, but with irony, reality and coping mixed in, the focus being an encouraging enjoyment of lives infinite variety.  Danny’s not that wholesome a character for a large part of the book and his lies, deception and delusional behaviour leads him into some uncomfortable situations, and some very funny cringeworthy sexual encounters, but, he’s got the support and gumption to find learning and try and change.  Add in some sage advice from eternally entertaining Jacob and the adventures of their lifetime boiled down into one liners to steal and this book is a charm and fierce antidote to the ways that shame supresses individual joy.

Author Henry Fry centres Danny’s increasingly erratic choices in the narrative allowing us to explore with him, enjoy the fall out, laugh at the raw painful awfulness of it and wallow in the reflective dialogue of his endless therapy and patient loving friendships. It’s a cool narrative engine and whilst this is often done in gaylit, it’s not often done through such a sex positive, Homocelebratory, queer joy prism, offering the LGBTQ+ reader a solidly affirming read and a totally accepting story of self-discovery, queer experiences and the value and accepting dependability of found and chosen family.

Danny’s journey is of breakdown being breakthrough and is a wonderfully evocative exploration of how the fires of change can fuel us though the fall, and how we can use the shit that life doles out to us to fertilise our fields and reap a future harvest, when we’ve learned to plant the seeds of potential, tend to our needs, feed our soul, nurture our relationships and be bold enough to reap a whirlwind harvest and share the bounty

Fry has served up some sass in this book, it’s a switch around emotional roller coaster which drags us up, straps us in, warns us of the bumpy ride and then sets off through DollyWoods greatest hits. It’s a fun, brave and accessible LGBTQ narrative of learning to love yourself, warts ‘n all, and funny too.

Out now: For more info or to order the book see the publisher’s website at this link.