Fog – Jeff Mann (Bear Bones Books)

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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 in-

                        vasions,
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

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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