The author sucks you into the rabit hole of his young life and its not a pretty story. A life of extreme sex , drugs and abuse at the hands of bullys, narcisists and sadists. Once started I had to finish. It reminds me of the time i dropped acid in the 80's one hell of a trip but once was enough for a lifetime.
This book was such an experience to read, that I was drawn in from the poetic, opening, the pantheon of Ancient Greek references and the beautiful prose that held it’s course the entire way through. As gripping and beautiful, and empowering as it is intense and sad: Poof was one of those rare Australian books of such honesty that I could see myself in the pages and felt like I was walking through them along with the Author.
James Tolcher has told his story in a manner that will captivate you. Best book Ive read in ages! Can't wait for his next book...
If you grew up gay in the suburbs of Brisbane in the 90s, you will almost certainly empathise with the author's upbringing and experiences. Nigh impossible to put down, and confronting, Tolcher dares not shy away from any topic, and describes them in vivid detail and brutal honesty. Interspersed with waxing poetic about their struggles, and rage of the downtrodden, this is a well-written book I can highly recommend. I am still unpacking its impact.
I was transfixed. I couldn’t stop reading even when I wanted to stop in horror. So much trauma and pain conveyed in such astonishingly powerful language. So many things far outside my experience - and yet not so far I can’t feel the impact of them. I’ve seen aspects of these experiences in the lives of others - but never come even close to the full terrifying range covered in this story. Reading this wasn’t a pleasure, but it was deeply, deeply affecting. I will be trying to resolve the impact for a very long time.
A personal story told so eloquently with such brutal unashamed honesty it left me unable to put this down. This story is beautiful, harrowing, painful and empowering and worth every minute you give it, it will stay with you long after you turn the final page.
The author delves into a life style and world that is not known by many. However it is clear how this community stands together. Tolcher is able to explore the depths of drug addiction, sex, sexuality and mental health in a way I haven’t seen expressed before by modern authors. Readers should read with their minds open and their heart strong and understanding. Tolcher’s story is not for the faint hearted. But then again…maybe that’s exactly why we should read it. - For Jacob.
I enjoyed the raw peeling back of the veil of Poof, an exhibition of how the perception and reality of another's human experience can vary. I highly recommend it!
A raw and captivating way to tell his story, blending the events of his very modern-day life with Greek mythology and history, and channelling poets and philosophers. Sobering but liberating, it touches many issues we face in our gay community, particularly finding belonging and meaningful connections, kink vs. sexual abuse, addictions, and love vs. lust. I cried. But love wins in the end.
Poof might be one of the most impactful stories I've read this year. Good or bad (though I would say this one is very, very good!), a piece of work that evokes emotion, thought, or discomfort is one worth the time. Couldn't put it down. Cannot wait to see what comes next.
His story is tragic, horrific, and yet his brazen honesty and truth-telling drew me right in. Tolcher transforms his own shame on every page, almost inviting the reader to embrace every part of their own story and stand strong in the face of their own demons and abusers. His writing is stunning with not a word out of place. Tolcher poetically weaves Greek mythology while remaining fully accessible to his reader.
The language, pace and storytelling will effortlessly carry you along, yet the story itself is dark and difficult. If you are up for looking at the shadows of gay culture and a society that continues to wage its homophobic wars on queer people, then this book will hopefully provide you courage and inspiration to stand strong in your own story and protect those who have been harmed.
I already can't wait to see what Tolcher does next, and I hope that every success comes from the courageous, genuine, and honest way he shared his story.
I could not put it down and would certainly recommend!
More enthralling and audacious than a debut book ought to be, but I suppose anyone who’s lived a life like the author deserves to lash out.
Tolcher holds a mirror up for all us queers, and for those not privy to this world, sure, cover your eyes (but you’ll peer through your fingers as each heart-wrenching or sordid scene unfolds).
A version of the following review (some small edits), written by myself, was published in Issue #283 of DNA Magazine. This review contains some spoilers.
Australian author James Tolcher’s debut book Poof is a harrowingly truthful biography. The book is an achievement and a chronicle of achievements: a “curriculum vitae”, as Tolcher puts it, of if not triumphs then survivals. Taken together, these survivals construct a panorama of the traumas and hostilities which punctuate, define or redefine, and sometimes end queer lives. That Tolcher has survived to tell his tales is an achievement all its own. That he does so with gripping prose is the achievement that hopefully will persuade readers to buy and read this profound and timely book.
Tolcher tells his story in a series of anecdotes, moving chronologically from his childhood to early adulthood, scaffolded in 5 sections with Anne Carson-like, Dionysian interstitials. Starting with his early years, Tolcher recounts bullying and exclusion from his peers (enabled by teachers and authority figures) and clashes with adults over his difference. While growing up with loving and supporting parents (his father is the first of four Michaels highlighted in the book), he is given no guidance, only silence when it comes to one of the central questions of his identity and the reason for his torment. He learns the power of the word “poof,” but both family and peers refuse to clarify the label with which he has been branded. The effect of this torment from all sides has drastic mental and physiological consequences: extreme anxiety, resulting in debilitating shyness and constant indigestion and diarrhea that permanently shaped his physical development. At moments he almost finds solidarity with other queer youth, but those opportunities pass quickly. Through willpower, he is able to transfer from his soul-crushing school to an arts and technical academy which is an oasis, if too little too late. These first two chapters are peppered with flashes to the near-present: fragments of gay nightlife and parties with their own paranoias, bullying and excesses.
After school life, Tolcher escapes Australia for London where he has his first sexual experiences away from the hostilities of home. Exploitative work situations reinforce Tolcher’s disillusionment with WASP respectability and the Protestant Work Ethic, and after a brief time, he returns home to Brisbane (to work situations no better than abroad). Again seeking escape, he connects through the internet with a high-profile CEO in Sweden, “M.M.” (another Michael), and enters into a Master/Slave dynamic with him. He serves as the live-in sex toy for this Swedish high-ranked executive for a while. Eventually Tolcher grows to feel he deserves emotional commitment from M.M. and returns home unrequited (though he remains in touch). Throughout this third chapter, Tolcher again returns to the near-present, inserting lurid sadomasochistic sessions with “Pig” (another Michael) involving physical torture, meth use, exhibitionism and financial domination; a reversal of the roles of Dom and Sub that Tolcher experienced with M.M. that blurs dark fantasy with shocking reality.
Tolcher meets other sadistic men who take him to places many kinksters only find in erotic fiction. Bondage, flogging, public sex, and objectification become Tolcher’s connection to competitive men who project self-confidence and delight in his capacity for physical pain. Men around him introduce Tolcher to the scene of Leather bars, clubs, and contests, and he enters gay BDSM’s social world with enthusiasm and even more sexual exploits. Despite his volunteering and contributions, he is twice snubbed in his efforts to win leather bar contests. It is amid this involvement that Tolcher recounts the arc of his relationship with, Jeremy, a man whose initial tenderness and affection gives way to physical and psychological abusive.
In the final chapter, Tolcher introduces the final Michael, an arch-embodiment of the series of sadistic men who extract Tolcher’s pain for their own pleasure while denying him genuine commitment. He intercuts these hair-raising physical tortures and heartaches with his witnessing a relationship between his friend Jacob and Jacob’s wealthy boyfriend Andy. Filled with glamorous destinations as the backdrop for drug and alcohol-fueled squabbles between Jacob and Andy, their toxic relationship culminates in a climax that, in a book full of shocks, reaches yet a new level of extremity. Finally, Tolcher breaks off from this last Michael to establish his own independence and sense of self.
Writing in a range of modes, including exalted, Whitmanesque pronouncements, postmodern, dialogues, and his own voice of mannered outrage, Tolcher recounts key experiences that both defined his queerness and illuminate how his queerness defined his experience of life. Cutting across the five chapters of the book are two distinct narratives: First, Tolcher’s chi...
Once you begin this journey you will find yourself drawn in with the authors incredible writing style.
If you are from the same background, you will feel the pain of your childhood... You will understand the present... And you will feel the danger associated with the choices that you have been presented in your life and how things can turn out.
If you are from a heterosexual background you will be presented with a raw understanding of the the feelings and life that your peers face. This book will open your eyes to another world.
This book will mean a lot of things to a lot of different people. One thing remains clear... This is a true story. This is a life that has been lived. This is the life of a brave boy. This is the life of a talented author.