From the star of Peacock’s Queer as Folk and the Netflix series Special comes a darkly witty and touching novel following a gay TV writer with cerebral palsy as he fights addiction and searches for acceptance in an overwhelmingly ableist world.
Elliott appears to be living the dream as a successful TV writer with a doting boyfriend. But behind his Instagram filter of a life, he’s grappling with an intensifying alcohol addiction, he can’t seem to stop cheating on his boyfriend with various sex workers, and his cerebral palsy is making him feel like gay Shrek.
After falling down a rabbit hole of sex, drinking, and Hollywood backstabbing, Elliott decides to limp his way towards redemption. But facing your demons is easier said than done.
Candid, biting, and refreshingly real, Just by Looking at Him is an incisive commentary on gay life, a heart-centered, laugh-out-loud exploration of self, and a rare insight into life as a person with disabilities.
I thoroughly enjoyed Ryan O’Connell’s Netflix series Special, so I was excited about the opportunity to read his fiction debut. The blurb had me at “gay Shrek”.
Protagonist Elliott has his flaws, but he’s affable and the engaging first person perspective draws the reader in, so it was easy for me like him, despite his flaws. Elliott works as a sitcom writer, which is ironic because his life is not unlike a dry and witty sitcom—one on HBO or a streaming service; definitely not one of those banal network sitcoms.
Elliott is clearly going through some sort of quarter-life-crisis; after years of heteronormaty with his long-term boyfriend, Elliott has had enough and seeks out new partners…without breaking it off with the current boyfriend. In theory, I should find this distasteful—indeed, if I were reading a romance, such behavior would be a dealbreaker.
But guess what? I’m not reading a romance; I’m reading lit fic, and so Elliott’s boyfriend’s feelings weren’t particularly relevant. Also, he baby talked at Elliott, so… no thank you to any of that. You do you, Elliott.
As interesting as Elliott’s journey of self-discovery is at first, it is also abundantly clear that it is not giving him the satisfaction he craves. There are some deep reflections on addiction as well as Elliott constantly having to deal with people reacting to his cerebral palsy.
I would absolutely recommend Just By Looking at Him. This book is hilarious and heartwarming. Despite his acerbic exterior, Elliott just wants to find happiness, which is completely relatable. I am looking forward to reading more from O’Connell in the future, and I’m hoping this book gets picked up for a limited series—fingers crossed!
I received a digital ARC of this book from Atria Books/NetGalley