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Sugarless Hardcover – October 22, 2009


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 274 pages
  • Publisher: University of Wisconsin Press; 1 edition (October 22, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0299233804
  • ISBN-13: 978-0299233808
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #261,586 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this fascinating 1970s coming-of-age story, playwright and translator Magruder introduces readers to Rick Lahrem, a high school sophomore struggling with his sexuality, his loneliness and his new stepfamily. His only solace is the Broadway LPs he buys at the local record store, but when he's coaxed into joining his school's speech team, he finally discovers something he's successful at and a group of friends who actually seem to care about him. Then one day, while record shopping, he meets Ned Bolang, a speech coach from a rival high school, and a sexual affair ensues just as Rick's mother is finding Christ, an irony not lost on the reader. Rick and Ned's relationship is nuanced and complicated: Rick views Ned as the one person who can make him happy, but is the older Ned exploiting his young lover? While this novel may be about a homosexual relationship in the 1970s, the story captures the struggles of teenagers, straight and gay, of every generation. (Oct.)
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Review

The tale of adolescent sexual awakening in James Magruder s Sugarless reads so true it feels like it should be thrust into the hands of every confused protogay teenager. --Out Magazine

In this fascinating 1970s coming-of-age story, playwright and translator Magruder introduces readers to Rick Lahrem, a high school sophomore struggling with his sexuality, his loneliness and his new stepfamily. His only solace is the Broadway LPs he buys at the local record store, but when he's coaxed into joining his school's speech team, he finally discovers something he's successful at and a group of friends who actually seem to care about him. Then one day, while record shopping, he meets Ned Bolang, a speech coach from a rival high school, and a sexual affair ensues just as Rick's mother is finding Christ, an irony not lost on the reader. Rick and Ned's relationship is nuanced and complicated: Rick views Ned as the one person who can make him happy, but is the older Ned exploiting his young lover? While this novel may be about a homosexual relationship in the 1970s, the story captures the struggles of teenagers, straight and gay, of every generation. --Publishers Weekly

With fine attention to detail and a resounding feel of truth James Magruder explores the burgeoning sexuality of a teenage boy in the Midwest bible belt coming to terms with his homosexuality. --The Washington Times

More About the Author

JAMES MAGRUDER was born in Washington, D.C., and moved with his family five times before settling down in Chicagoland. He went off to Cornell University, spent his junior year in Paris, served time as a grad student in the Yale French department, then defected to the Yale School of Drama, where he received his doctorate. His dissertation, THREE FRENCH COMEDIES (Yale University Press), was named an "Outstanding Literary Translation of the Year" by the American Literary Translators Association. Today, his versions of Molière, Marivaux, Lesage, Labiche, Gozzi, Hofmannsthal, and Dickens have been produced across the country and earn him tens of dollars. He also wrote the book for the ill-starred Broadway musical Triumph of Love. The journal he kept during that very special time will become available when several of his collaborators have passed away.

After fifteen years in show business, he began writing fiction in 2002. His stories have appeared in New England Review, The Gettysburg Review, Bloom, Subtropics, The Normal School, and elsewhere, and the anthologies BOY CRAZY and NEW STORIES FROM THE MIDWEST. His debut novel, SUGARLESS, was a Lambda Literary Award Finalist, and was shortlisted for both the VCU Cabell First Novelist Prize and the 2010 William Saroyan International Writing Prize. TriQuarterly Books will publish his first collection of stories, titled LET ME SEE IT, in 2014.

His writing has been supported by the Maryland State Arts Council, the New Harmony Project, The MacDowell Colony, the Sewanee Writers' Conference, the Ucross Foundation, the Blue Mountain Center, and the Jerome Foundation. He teaches dramaturgy at Swarthmore College and fiction at the University of Baltimore. He lives in Maryland with his partner Stephen Bolton.

Customer Reviews

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Very funny and very moving!
R. Dorfman
My poor husband couldn't sleep last night as I stayed up reading this book and was continually laughing OUT LOUD.
Jessica Anya Blau, author, THE WONDER BREAD SUMMER
James Magruder's Sugarless is my favorite book of 2009.
Christopher H. Wright

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Birmingham Bear on October 1, 2009
Format: Hardcover
SUGARLESS is a brilliant new work that deserves a wide audience. Well-written and constructed, Magruder's book introduces a wonderful new character, Rick, who shares his thoughts and adventures with the reader. Avoiding many of the pitfalls of similar works, SUGARLESS is far from maudlin or heavy-handed. The characters are believable and the author perfectuly captures the look and feel of the 1970s, as well as a young man's thrilling and frightening exploration of his sexuality. Kudos for such a terrific story.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Jeannette Festa on September 30, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Sexy, hilarious, heartbreaking. Sugarless is a valentine to love's indelible nature. Read this novel not just for its finely tuned record of the 24 hour news cycle that is adolescense . Read this novel not just for the claustrophobic familiarity of the fractured and bandaged, barely reconstituted family life circa 1973. Read this novel not just for the razor sharp humor fueled by the hormonal juggernaut of coming of age, coming out and did I mention that Jesus might save us all? But, sex definitely will. Read this novel to laugh and weep and revisit the intensity of being 15. As Rick discovers the wily, wilder world celebrated in his Sondheim musicals, he finds himself without a spoonful of sugar to sweeten life's visceral lessons of loving , losing and forgiving. The best writing is always brave and true, not just to itself but to larger realities that lodge in the heart of the reader permanently. Sugarless is such a book.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Bob Lind on September 17, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Rick Lahrem is a rather nondescript mid-1970's high school sophomore, in a nondescript Chicago suburb, who spends most of his spare time listening to Broadway-cast albums. His ability to "blend in" is a coping mechanism, to avoid attention at school (which he fears might result in him being outed as gay) and to avoid making waves in his rather dysfunctional family, consisting of a psychologist stepfather who is a slob, his stoner stepsister, and a mother in denial about her not-so-"happy" home. It all changes for Rick the day that he gives a dramatic reading in Speech class, which results in bringing some students to tears, and puts him on the teachers' "radar" to join the school team that competes in dramatic interpretation competitions. And it starts to really unravel when he is assigned a dramatic scene from the gay-themed play "The Boys in the Band."

Surprisingly, Rich steps up to the challenges that face him, and does very well in the competitions. He also explores his sexual fantasies, with a speech coach from a rival school, dangerously about the same time as his mother is "born again" as a devout Bible-thumping Christian.

A talented first-time novelist presents a sweet, witty and well-written coming-of-age story, featuring realistic, fully-nuanced characters and situations (including the relationship with the older man). Worthy of a full five disco stars out of five!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Kevin McGuire on December 30, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I'm glad to see that no previous reviewers have applied the labels "gay novel" or "gay fiction" to James Magruder's Sugarless. Such labels would tend to mask the broad appeal and universal coming-of-age themes of this richly drawn and enjoyable book. Clearly, the narrator and protagonist Richard Larhem's emerging sexuality is important to both character and plot. However, author Magruder has rendered Richard's difficult journey so deftly, with such honesty, humor, and care, that it is Richard's awkward teenage humanity--courage, weakness, angst, need, and manipulations--that takes center stage. As I suspect most readers will, I found much in Sugarless that resonated with my own tangled recollections of early high school years and less than ideal family dynamics. Beyond all that, Magruder has written a book that's hard to put down and a treat to read!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Christopher H. Wright on December 20, 2009
Format: Hardcover
James Magruder's Sugarless is my favorite book of 2009. In the book, Rick--the narrator--looks back on a formative period in his life with astonishing insight and nostalgia, feeling again, through the telling of them, all of the thrills and anguish of becoming an adult. It offers the reader the vicarious pleasure of watching Rick negotiate his initiation into the sexual world, and then complicates that pleasure with honest depictions of the failure, loss, and grief which constitute mature self-awareness and social existence.

Along the way, we experience surprisingly clear yet complex descriptions of Rick's self-discovery: puzzling out the tangles of sexual desire, family, and social relationships, and of the ways that people talk around and about both the important and trivial things of life. As confusion resolves into certainty, Rick, his world, and the important people in it hurtle with all of the intensity of adolescence to a crisis as unexpected as it seems inevitable. Rick's conflicts and strength and emotional landscape shine through the prose with amazing clarity. The last chapter, in which an older Rick looks back on his life, expresses the losses of youth with a beautifully understated profundity.

I definitely recommend that you take a look at the website for the novel--it has a great trailer (when did books start having trailers, anyway?) and lots of interesting tidbits about the author and his work: [...]
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