Perhaps I’m asking too much, but I’d give my right arm for a peek in Jeff Mann’s basement (That’s just a figure of speech, Jeff. I need my right arm.). I envision a row of trussed country boys hanging from hooks like ball-gagged Christmas hams labeled Sunday through Saturday, one for every day of the week. Maybe I simply have an overactive imagination and his basement is as prosaic as mine, but you’d never be able to tell it from his novel, Fog.
Jay and Al, two country boys living in an isolated mountain cabin, stalk and kidnap a hot hunk whose father crossed Jay years back. Jay feels nothing but rage and hatred for the handsome Rob, but Al—who has actually done the stalking—is so infatuated with the boy that he just might try to save his life, even though Jay has vowed Rob will never leave the cabin alive.
Mann, whose Lambda Literary Award winning reputation rests on a volume of short fiction, A History of Barbed Wire, as well as several collections of poetry and essays comes up a winner with this, his first novel. Its set-up is similar to the novella which ends Barbed Wire, “The Quality of Mercy,” but he takes Fog in a much different direction as well as using the longer form to explore the aftermath of the kidnapping and its effect on the victim as well as his captor.
Mann’s prose is nothing short of poetry. Consider his opening paragraph:
January is the month of mists. The cove’s full of white this morning, making fuzzy shapes of the spruce trees surrounding the house. If I didn’t know better, I’d say that someone had plastered with windowpanes with translucent paper, that we were moored inside a pearl. The glass of the pane is frigid beneath my touch. Winter’s dedicated to invasions, insisting on its right to enter whom it will.
Moored inside a pearl—you can’t do better than that. Even more sumptuous are his descriptions of the simple country meals Al serves his captive. I’d post one, but it’d just make you hungry. Clearly, Mann is enraptured by food—and by the bindings and trappings of BDSM, which he describes with loving, reverent, nearly sacred bliss. If there’s one author who could make me appreciate being gagged with piss-stained underwear, it’s Jeff Mann. The sex scenes are delightfully kinky-hot, riding the thin wedge between pain and pleasure where Mann loves to lurk.
Aside from his poetic prose, Mann’s characters also stand up to close scrutiny. True, Jay is somewhat of a cipher, but he’s there to provide tension more than anything else. His motives are simpler and don’t warrant too much explanation. The emotional heart of the book lies with Al and Rob and their relationship, and by the time the denouement comes, we know these two very well indeed. But it’s the coda that provides the most satisfying part of Fog. Unfortunately, I can’t explain why without giving a good deal of the plot away, and only a churl would spoil the tightly wound atmosphere that Mann builds.
Fog is a deftly crafted, fine thriller with lots of kink—a perfect appetizer for Mann’s forthcoming Civil War novel, Purgatory.
© 2011, Jerry L. Wheeler