I met Jeff Mann in 2006, at Saints and Sinners in New Orleans and the first bearish blip of him on my radar screen was when he read from “The Quality of Mercy,” the novella that ends this book. Much like the antagonist in that story, I was captured. I rushed to the bookseller’s table
and bought a copy of the first Suspect Thoughts printing and read it on the plane on the way home.
Five years later, the groundbreaking Suspect Thoughts Press is no more, I have a book or two of my own under my belt, and Mann is still kicking serious literary ass with both prose and poetry. His recent releases for Bear Bones Books all offer their own bearded BDSM charms, but the point of my reminiscences is that the book that started my painfully shy love affair with Jeff and his kink is finally back into print.
The now-it-can-be-told truth is that when I review reprints of material I’ve read previously, I rarely re-visit them. I might crack open the cover to refresh my memory on character names and salient plot points but that’s as far as it usually goes. That didn’t happen with A History of Barbed Wire. From the first paragraph of “The Quality of Mercy,” (which I’ll get back to in a bit), I was again hooked by Mann’s language, pacing and fevered fetishistic descriptions, and I read the whole thing over again.
I admire Mann’s prose as much for its lyricism as its bite—both proven here in magnificent stories like the foreboding “Raspberry Moonshine,” the idyllic “Snowed in With Sam,” the melancholic “Not for Long” and the three-way earnestness of “Daddy Dave.” But it’s “The Quality of Mercy” I keep coming back to again and again.
In this nearly perfect novella, Sean captures a country singer (based loosely—or wholly—on Tim McGraw) and holds him hostage in a remote Appalachian hideaway, hoping to win the straight boy’s love and affection through bondage, country breakfasts and the simple beauty of a mountain summer. But there is so much more going on here than simply a power struggle. Sean wants Tim to accept an entire ethos, an unrealistic goal which he knows will fail. Still he has to try, even though he knows he will lose in the end. The sex, the bondage, the humiliation, is all non-consensual and, therefore, all the more terrifying. That’s why the resolution (which I can’t give away) is so damn satisfying. And as wonderful as Mann’s work is in general, this, my friends, is fucking brilliant. Please don’t miss out on it.
All this and the original introduction by the one and only Patrick Califia make A History of Barbed Wire one of the best reprints of the year. No wonder it won a Lambda Literary Award. Get a copy, hold your head up high and step into Jeff Mann’s Appalachia.
But don’t forget your cuffs and ball-gag.
© 2011, Jerry L. Wheeler