My Hero – Tristam Burden (Rebel Satori Press, 2007)

Buy it direct from Rebel Satori Press

Tristram Burden’s My
Hero
is an improbably successful and captivating debut novel. 

Telling the story of Joshua My Hero, the novel partakes in
the generic tropes of science fiction and pornography, is structured as both a
gay coming-of-age tale and a spiritual quest narrative; it reads like a mystery
and a mythological epic in turn.  The
world it conjures is populated with wizards, cyborgs, giants, aliens and
shape-shifters.  Its post-apocalyptic
setting allows for critique of contemporary religious, political, cultural,
economic and environmental norms.  In the
hands of a lesser author, this jumble would spell disaster, but Burden keeps a
firm hand on the narrative rudder and sketches fully rendered, believable,
intriguing, sympathetic characters. 
While the jacket invokes Burroughs and Lovecraft, I heard Georges
Bataille and Pierre Klossowski in the wings. 
(Although Burden’s work is certainly a watered down version of their
scandalous tales.)

Joshua My Hero, the improbably surnamed protagonist, is a
teenage parricide fleeing a Christian fundamentalist trailer park.  At the novel’s beginning, he contemplates
becoming a prostitute to survive, but eventually realizes that he has a grand destiny—a
destiny involving ancient divinities (who speak through his cock), bound up
with his visionary power (that comes to fore during his orgasms) that may
result in Earth’s post-nuclear-holocaust renewal.

Burden is a masterful storyteller.  The multivocality of the novel’s first few
pages demands that the reader sort past from present, narration from internal
monologue.  The mystery continues for the
remainder of the tale:  it unfolds and
expands at just the right pace.  Burden
uses third-person objective narration deftly: 
there is no rapid oscillation between characters, but just enough shifts
away from Joshua that the reader questions the motives of other
characters.  (Burden offers a single
instance of direct address to the reader. 
Because it happens only once, and late, I found it jarring, rather than
formally interesting.)  His sex scenes
are raw, hot and creative.  And even
though Joshua insists that he doesn’t like girls, the novel’s eroticism is not confined
to male homoerotic encounters.  But as
importantly, Burden effectively evokes desire between characters who never
engage in sex.  He is so adept at
maintaining erotic tension, in fact, I expected certain characters to
consummate their relation by story’s end. 
I was pleasantly surprised when they didn’t, and enjoyed the
expectational frisson.   

The post-apocalyptic cultural critique is a strong presence
in the book.  It is most successful when
it is implicit in events.  When Burden
relies on dialogue to express this critique more directly, it gets clumsy,
heavy-handed and trite pretty quickly. 
(This is surprising given Burden’s gift for dialogue—and the stammering
of speech—more generally.)  The
connection between Joshua’s sexuality and his spiritual destiny provides the
novel’s most powerful critique of contemporary cultural politics.  Again, when the marriage of the erotic and
the Divine is presented in Joshua’s sexual adventures or his orgasmic visions,
it works incredibly well.  When Joshua
compares his rebellious spirit to that of Eve, or his mentor explains how “the
Fall” was not about sin but knowledge, things feel a little shopworn.  Burden’s use of the Tao Te Ching is also odd. 
Joshua has a tattered copy of the text and flips through it to gain
insight:  this is, of course, exactly how
Christian fundamentalists treat the Bible. 
It also veers close to an exoticizing Orientalism.  Joshua also has a vivid erotic fantasy
involving Jesus’ crucified body, and the penetrability of its wounds:  a more interesting religious critique might
have been possible if Burden had moved around in the Christian imaginary rather
than casting it solely as villainous presence.

My Hero has a lot
to offer and will undoubtedly please a wide range of readers.  Like any good hero tale, Burden draws his
story to a close in a fashion that leaves open the possibility of Joshua’s
adventures.  I would certainly follow
where Burden and Joshua lead.

Reviewed by Kent Brintnall

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