At the midway point of Testament, queer horror writer Jose Nateras’ debut novel, the protagonist is speaking with an experienced LGBTQIA historian about the gothic happenings that are occurring in his life. As I read, I began remembering all the amazing journalistic mentors I’ve had in my career – Ralph P. Gernhardt, co-founder of Gay Chicago Magazine…Louis Weisberg and Larry Bommer of Chicago Free Press, all leaders in queer publishing and community reporting. The ability to have this personal connection to a piece of literature is ultimately why Nateras’ book is so important. It is so rare to have a complicated, sympathetic gay narrator as our guide throughout a genuine work of terror fiction.
The narrator in question here is Gabe Espinosa, an emotionally devastated Latinx man. Still recovering from a hasty suicide attempt due to romantic misadventure, he soon finds himself the target of an entity that seemingly wants to destroy him not only for his sexuality, but for his racial background, as well. This plot point is another of the significant pleasures of this quick moving 195 page tome. Nateras imbues Gabe with many of the concerns and conflicts facing minorities residing in an already marginalized culture. Fetishism, invisibility and lack of status and opportunity are all explored here with taut emotion and sensitive reasoning.
Nicely, there are magnified scenes of shock and intrigue here, as well. A frenzied mob attack on the CTA in Chicago is almost heart stopping in intensity while the film’s penultimate encounter is also viciously rendered. In fact, one almost wishes Nateras had utilized more descriptiveness in closing out these supernatural details. A longer climax may have actually benefited this already exciting and relatable story, allowing readers to truly grasp the combative nature that Gabe must employ to fight back against what is haunting him.
The fact that Nateras writes such compelling characters also comes in to play here, as well. It is easy to fall in love with Gabe and his friends, especially his ne’er do well, bisexual roommate Bryan, and to have had the pleasure of their company for a moment or two longer would have truly been a gift. Thus, Nateras should be proud of this spooky, culturally valuable work and I can’t wait to read his next efforts in genre writing.
Until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!