The Painting of Porcupine City – Ben Monopoli (Amazon Digital Services)

Buy it now from Amazon.com – The Painting of Porcupine City: A Novel

Ben Monopoli writes banter for smart
young people better than anyone I know. He nails everyday gestures and props
and creates thoroughly detailed, realistic panoramas of post-college drift. The
narrator of Monopoli’s second novel, The Painting of Porcupine City, is
Fletcher Bradford, a young, single, gay, Bostonian with a crush on Mateo
Amaral, the Brazilian-American IT guy at his job. Mateo has a secret life in
which he quickly involves Fletcher. Meanwhile, Fletcher’s friend and roommate
Cara is marrying her boyfriend , the hunky Jamar, who was once Fletcher’s
roommate, and Fletcher’s ex, still a fuck buddy, has hooked up with a guy who
was Fletcher’s wet dream in college. The pieces are in place for major trouble,
but for the first three-fifths of the book, it doesn’t happen.

Mateo’s hobby is in fact illegal; it
could get him and Fletcher beat up, arrested, or even killed. But scenes of them
stealing around nighttime Boston don’t feel dangerous. Mateo, though Brazilian,
was born in the U.S., so no INS threats hang over him. Boston has a huge
Brazilian/Portuguese population, but Mateo has no local Brazilian friends, nor
does he ask Fletcher to show interest in Brazilian culture. Ultimately, there
seems to be no reason for Mateo to be Brazilian. As for Cara and Jamar, we
expect more tension between them and the gay best friend they live with.
Fletcher has a weakness for hunks that it will soon destroy Mateo , but sweet,
strapping Jamar does not move him.

Then, less than a hundred from the end,
two ghastly events occur. The first, to which I alluded, requires Fletcher to
humiliate Mateo so cruelly, for the sake of so little and with so little
regret, that I felt I could not trust him again; the second kills off a
character in an especially gruesome way. We feel sucker-punched, and, as we try
to regain our bearings, more unlikely events hit us in rapid succession.  From embodying the adolescent complaint that
nothing ever happens, the book switches to embodying the adolescent wish that
everything change all at once. Monopoli delivers genuine jolts, but the price
is our trust and our affection for his hero.

None of this is to say that Monopoli is
not a tremendously gifted writer. There is a strong hint early on that he is
capable of more subtle work, of charting myriad small shifts that build more
believably toward big events. Pre-Mateo, Fletcher has a stable of
semi-satisfactory fuck buddies, including the ex, Alex. A casual hook-up
between the two disappoints and deflates in exactly the right way, with a
world-weariness and sophistication that, diligently practiced, should soon
produce a work not only of sights and sounds that feel just right, but of
richly nuanced storytelling as well.

Reviewed by David Pratt

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