This book is very complicated and not at all what I expected. Loaned to me by a reading friend I had no expectations. A couple of days after completion, I am left feeling lifted. I definitely don't want to give any spoilers so I'll leave that there.
The simple part of the story is about Jack Burns, first as a little boy being dragged around Canada and then Scandinavia by his mother. She is a tattoo artist who was left by Jack's father while she was pregnant. At an early age he is acknowledged as beautiful, with eyelashes to die for. While attending a mostly girls parochial school in Canada (grades k-4) he is introduced to sexual activity, first by the girls and then by a woman who becomes his nanny. During this time he finds he has an extensive gift for memorization and has leads in all of the lower school plays, both as the female and male leads; and then in fourth grade he is cast as the female lead in the senior high play with great success. By the time he is sent to Boarding school in New England for grade five, he has lost his virginity and learned to wrestle. Throughout the rest of his junior high and high school years he finds older women to have sex with and wrestles on the school team. Through all of this his mother has moved in with another woman and they have become a couple; the other woman's daughter, Emma, and he have always had an odd sexual history but have never had sex. Jack and Emma support each other emotionally and sometimes sexually as they mature. She goes to college in New York, and six years later when he graduates from high school, he stays in New England for college as well.
After traveling the country doing summer stock together (with Jack still being cast in the occasional girls role). They eventually move to California and get a place together. Emma works as a script reader by day and writes a novel; Jack works as a waiter and scrambles to become an actor. Through a series of luck, talent and perseverance, Jack gets his first break as a cross-dresser in a movie with big name talent. As Jack plugs away at his career, Emma gets her first novel published. It is turned into a movie and Jack stars in it. They are by now both famous. Emma publishes a second book, though it is not as successful as the first.
Now in his thirty's, Emma near forty; Jack receives three blows. While he is on a publicity tour for the movie of Emma' first book, he receives word that she died suddenly. He goes back to Canada with Emma's mother and while there learns that his mother has cancer and doesn't have long to live. Then, he learns that most of what his mother told him about his father was a lie. His father did love him, supported them, paid for the private schools, college, and desperately wanted to meet him. However Jack's mother would not let him.
The remainder of the book is Jack's coming to grips with the loss of his best friend/sister, Emma; his mother; and the life changing news that the father he never knew was a silent part of his life for so long, kept from him by his spiteful mother. He goes on a search trying to find out who he really is.
I have left out so much detail, characters, places. Miss Wurst, Claudia, Bonnie, even Lucy... The book is a tapestry of organ music and tattoo designs.
It's difficult to let it go.