Monthly Archives: May 2012

A Conversation with Stephen Graham King by Gavin Atlas

Stephen Graham King is the author of the new science fiction novel, Chasing Cold, (Hadley Rille Books) as well as the memoir, Just Breathe: My Journey through Cancer and Back.  His short fiction has been published in the anthologies Desolate Places, Ruins Metropolis and North of Infinity II.  He currently lives in Toronto.

Hi, Stephen!  Thank you so much for doing this interview.   First, could you tell us about your background and what first sparked your interest in writing and specifically, writing science fiction?   

I took an incredible creative writing class in high school that was one of those perfect combinations of teacher and students. It was just a small group of invited kids who were all completely different, a group that would never have mingled otherwise, and we studied all of these different forms and shared our work in a completely supportive environment.

As for science fiction, that love has been a part of my life as long as I can remember. I recall seeing the original run of Star Trek when I was no more than three or so, and some of the first books I remember reading were the Venus and Caspak books of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Science fiction has been there my whole life.

I’ve read that Chasing Cold has been considered by a reviewer as “old fashioned” although he added, because of this, your book would have appeal to fans of Golden Age science fiction.  How do you feel about that assessment?  What films, books, or TV shows (if any) do you feel you drew upon most in this story?

I am fine with that assessment. I love space opera, always have. It’s what I grew up reading and watching. I grew up on Star Trek, Star Wars and The Fifth Element. Things like Firefly and Babylon 5 show just how good space opera can be if it’s done right.  Despite his flaws, I love Robert Heinlein. Writers like Arthur C. Clarke, Vonda McIntyre and Diane Duane. People for whom it’s all about the story and where it can take you. I’ve even held on to my lifelong love of comics in all their forms.

My work has always been strongly influenced by that. What I’ve tried to do in my writing, and especially with this book, is integrate that style with a specific queer slant. I wanted to write the kind of stories that didn’t exist when I was growing up: fun, exciting stories with gay men at the centre.  Chasing Cold turned out to be a bit more contemplative, because it drew on own experiences of leaving a city that I’d lived in most of my life. A real experience was changed into an unreal one.

I’ve noticed that same sex attraction is handled with the same degree of acceptance as heterosexual attraction on Frostbite, the home planet of your main character, Rogan Tyso.  How do you feel about the ease (or difficulty) of combining gay characters and space opera?  Did the “queer content” have any effect on how easy it was to find a publisher? 

I think we’re working towards making a world where who we love is irrelevant to our worth as human beings; where we are judged on our actions and our character. So, I wanted that to be intrinsic to the stories I told. Take homophobia out of the mix. Assume that what we are struggling for will come to pass and sexuality won’t matter except to those directly involved in the sex. The wonderful thing about writing SF is getting to write the worlds you want. And whatever chaos may ensue, in my universes, sexuality isn’t a factor.

As to how difficult it was to find a publisher, I think, at its heart, the science fiction community is more open to these ideas, to alternative sexualities. You can go back to writers like Samuel R. Delany, Joanna Russ and Ursula K. Leguin who were incorporating “alternative” sexuality into their work when I was young. Which was a long time ago!

I did have a previous publication relationship with Hadley Rille Books, as they published the short story that Chasing Cold is based on. And both Eric T. Reynolds, Hadley Rille’s publisher, and Rob Darnell, the assistant editor who read it first, saw and loved the story as a story, which is what I hoped for. It wasn’t “Gay science fiction”, it was a good story that happened to be about a gay character.

Could you tell us about what went into forming Rogan’s character?   What aspects do you like best about him? 

Because the story is somewhat based on an experience I had, Rogan is the stand in for me, I guess. He’s a bit of a loner, a bit of a pragmatist, but with real friends that he loves, and yet simultaneously feels a bit removed from. He’s also someone I’d like to be more like. When he sees this amazing opportunity, he knows that he has to take it. He isn’t afraid to go out into the unknown and see what’s there. I always overthink things, and it takes me much longer to make big life decisions that it takes him.

In this universe, mankind is basically eking out an existence on nearly uninhabitable planets with names like Frostbite, Dustbowl, and Hellhole thanks to a powerful and violent alien race, the Flense.   I think “flense” is the word used to describe skinning a seal or whale.   Are there any underlying meanings to your depiction of the Flense and their treatment of humans?

You hit it right on the head. The Flense were an idea that I came up with before the novel, before the short story, even. All I knew was their name, and that was all I needed to know, initially. The name suggested the darkness behind them, that they weren’t benevolent or aiding mankind in any way. So the idea just sat in the back of my brain for a while. Then, when I was writing “Nor Winter’s Cold” for the anthology, Desolate Places, the story required a reason why humans were no longer living on comfortable worlds. I needed a reason for them to be hiding and struggling on worlds like Frostbite. And that idea that had been sitting in the back of my mind came forward and inserted itself neatly into place. Writing the novel gave me the chance to explore the idea in a bit more depth, even though I wanted to maintain the mystery somewhat.

What were your favorite parts of writing Chasing Cold and what were the biggest obstacles?  What advice, if any, would you give to beginning writers trying to write science fiction or space opera now?  

Writing the first draft was so easy. No project has ever come so easily to me. Every time I sat down to work on the project, the words just came. The ideas kept flowing, I had an outline early on, even had a draft of the last couple of paragraphs. I doubt I will ever have such an easy time of a first draft again. My next novel is certainly not coming as easily.

I have a bit of an artsy fartsy mentality about being a writer. My advice would be to write the stories you want to read. Don’t try to write to fit a market or the latest trend. Trends are mysterious and can end as quickly as they come. Write what’s true and natural for you, even if it isn’t in vogue. Also, work at the craft. Take constructive, healthy comment and criticism and learn from it. Do everything you have to do to make your writing the best it can be. And for everything you write, ask yourself these three questions: Who are your characters? What happens to them? And how does it affect them?  That, to me, is what good writing is all about.

Are there any recent works of speculative fiction works that you’d recommend?

I loved Daniel H. Wilson’s Robopocalypse. It was an exciting exploration of an end of the world scenario, but you could easily see the roots of the conflict in our present day world.

I also really enjoyed The Hunger Games trilogy. I thought that for a young adult series it had a nice hard edge to it and a lead character that always remained borderline unlikeable, and yet very real in her responses to her situation.

I’m currently reading Jasper Fforde’s One of Our Thursdays is Missing, his latest Thursday Next novel. It’s not really spec fic, more of a fantasy, but he has an amazing imagination and the universe he’s created is so absolutely specific and unique. There’s nothing anywhere quite like it.

Let’s say there’s an expedition to a new planet that will need terraforming, construction, laws, and so forth, and you’re in charge of making it a great place to live.  What would your version of paradise look like?

It needs to be temperate enough for hot men to wear very little clothing. I have my priorities.  And it needs to have enough resources and land to stave off some of the basic conflicts, at least for a while. I’d want there to be laws that protect everyone, not just the rich or the white or the straight. And everyone would be taken care of. There would be no worries that anyone would go without or go hungry. Everyone would be fed and clothed and would contribute to the work that makes that happen. Beyond that, people could play sports or make art or make babies, as long as they are committed to helping their brothers and sisters stay healthy and happy.

What are you looking forward to, both as far as writing projects and life in general?

I have a new novel on the go, called Blind Luck. It’s a bit more adventure oriented than Chasing Cold, more like the type of book I was writing before. I have an outline and know where it’s headed, and now that Chasing Cold is out there in the world, it’s time to get back at that and move it along again. I’d also like to revisit the two unpublished novels I have patiently waiting for me. They have evolved as I have evolved, and I’d like to bring some of the lessons I learned from this book and the improved writing skills to bear and make them better; see if I can’t find an audience for them as well.

Thanks so much, Stephen!

You are most welcome. Anyone who knows me will tell you how much I love to talk. It’s great to be able to sit and share thoughts about this book and writing in general.

Learn more about Stephen and his books at stephengrahamking.com

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Heart’s History – Lewis DeSimone (Lethe Press)

Buy it now direct from Lethe Press.

Some books are loud and abrasive, demanding your attention
as they exhaust it. Others work their charms with subtlety and nuance,
finishing just as memorably—if not more so—than those that scream their premises.
Lewis DeSimone proves himself a master of the quiet approach with his latest
release, The Heart’s History.

Ostensibly, this is the story of Edward and his younger
lover Robert and how a group of Edward’s long-time friends cope with his
illness and death from AIDS, seeking to understand a multi-faceted man who has
only shown parts of himself. In a larger sense, The Heart’s History
takes on the more universal topics of settling down, settling in, the
assimilation of our culture into straight society, and aging gracefully. Or
not.

Complex yet engaging, this story is not plot-driven. Yes,
things happen and there is a story arc. However, suspense is not the reason
these pages seem to turn themselves. The characters are so real that by the
time DeSimone has introduced them all in the opening chapter as they gather at
a Provincetown beachside home, they already seem like old friends. DeSimone
accomplishes this with his uncanny gift for dialogue that sounds spoken instead
of written and an unerring eye for detail. By the time you hit page 32, you
already care about these people—a much more important propellant than plot.

One of those people, Harlan, really stands out. Harlan is
the unrepentant slut of the bunch—a fiercely independent man with a healthy disdain
of straight culture, romance and couplehood. He appreciates the relationship
Edward has with Robert but simply cannot see himself involved in anything
remotely similar. When Sam comes into his life, he acknowledges the importance
of such deep connections but is unable to force himself to forge that bond.

The relationship between Edward and Robert is also important
as it frames the story. We are introduced to Robert in the first chapter, as
are the other friends. Younger than the rest, Robert feels left out and odd at
first, but as the book progresses he develops his own friendships within
Edward’s crowd—especially with Kyle, Edward’s closest friend and the one who’s
always had a secret crush on Edward. Another pairing worth mentioning is
Edward’s friend Greg and Greg’s boyfriend (and later, husband) Victor. Greg has
been out for years, but Victor is only recently out, having been married for a
number of years. Victor’s discomfort at being with obviously gay men is
delicious, especially when he’s being skewered by Harlan, and their exchanges
provide for some of the funniest and most telling dialogue in the book.

But anything I can say about The Heart’s History will
only pale in comparison to the work itself. Genuine, heartfelt and true, this
is a beautiful book that will have you laughing and crying simultaneously.
Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Saints & Sinners 2012 Wrap-Up

You’d think that in this age of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other forms of electronic immediacy, there’d be less and less reason for queer writers (and those who love them) to congregate. After all, Skype is almost face to face, isn’t it?

Not quite.

Nothing beats real time communication, and I have yet to find a literary conference where everyone is as approachable and convivial as our annual NOLA gathering. This year, even though financial constraints forced the organizers to scale it back, was no exception. The leaner and meaner S&S packed a considerable punch due to the new manuscript review sessions.

But the weekend started Friday night at the Hotel Monteleone with cocktails, nibblies and readings from the winners of the third annual Short Fiction contest. Amie Evans emceed a great program of terrific writers like J. R. Greenwell, George E. Jordan, Jeff Lindemann, Frank Perez, James Russell and Jerry Rabushka, and everyone present received a copy of the anthology of contest winners, Saints and Sinners 2012: New Fiction from the Festival. Drinking, eating, and entertainment. Kinda sums up New Orleans, doesn’t it?

Saturday dawned bright and early, regardless of where or how long you partied, and we were off to our Manuscript Review Workshops—hosted by Jameson Currier, Fay Jacobs, Jeff Mann and Radclyffe. I attended Jim Currier’s Literary Fiction workshop, giving the participants 10K words of my novel-in-progress The Dead Book and getting some excellent feedback in return. Subsequent conversations indicated the other workshops were just as successful as mine.

We had no time to rest on those laurels, however. At 7:30, I was off to the Orange Gallery on Royal St. to read with William Holden, Jeff Mann, Radclyffe, Jean Redmann and the inimitable Fay Jacobs—who is the toughest act to follow. People stayed afterward for cocktails and questions and to demolish a mountain of fruit and cheese. Some of us went on to a lovely dinner at The Court of Two Sisters, but that is yet another story of New Orleans culinary debauchery.

No matter how much we ate or drank, we were still on our game Sunday for a panel discussion with Jameson Currier, Greg Herren, Radclyffe and Jean Redmann called “Is the Sky Falling? Publishing, Plagiarism and Piracy.” Informative and entertaining, the panel left us all in the Hotel Monteleone’s Orleans Room something to think about—a perfect way to end the weekend.

I have never come away from a S&S weekend without being energized and ready to jump in to another project. This time, I’m making a public vow to finish The Dead Book by the end of the year. Dangerous, I know—but I like it out here on the edge. So, start making plans for S&S 2013, and make your own dreams into realities.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

What Part of the Brain Controls Book Reviews? (and a Tribute to Jerry and Bill) – Essay by Gavin Atlas

Last year at Saints and Sinners, Jerry and Bill offered a panel on book reviewing, and I wished I could have participated.  Since the bosses are in New Orleans, I’ll fill up some space, and hopefully you’ll get something out of it.  At the end, I’ll have a request of you based on the fact that traffic reports indicate lots of people view Out in Print, but often there are only a few comments, if any.

First, why should you want to read criticism on criticism?  Perhaps because authors who practice story and character analysis by writing reviews, even if it’s for their eyes only, learn more quickly to avoid mistakes they’ve identified in other people’s work.  Meanwhile, readers might discern patterns in what they like and dislike which can help them winnow their to-be-read lists.

I’m unusual because I come at reviews from three angles:  an author, a book reviewer (although I now write few reviews), and a publicist.  Wait a minute.  Four angles.  Sometimes I’m a potential consumer.

Seeing it from all those perspectives has taught me that reviewing is extremely difficult, and there are so many ways to go wrong.  When studying reviewing techniques in college, we were told professionals use third person and make declarative statements.  “Readers of all ages will love this immensely”.   That sounds good, and you can bet that authors (and publicists) love the confidence and universality of that statement.  I used to do that with every review. 

Then I started looking at Dear Author and other sites that revel in getting attention by shredding authors with world-class sarcasm.  I came across vicious declaratives like “Readers will decry this protagonist as the most passive individual since Terri Schiavo”.   I’d be dishonest if I said snark and hyperbole are never funny, but it’s most likely not if you’re the author under attack.  Offending someone isn’t any concern to the anonymous critics at Dear Author, and if any of them know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a review gleefully dripping with venom, I would never have guessed.  The Out in Print reviewers are brave and decent enough to put their names on their reviews even though the books largely come from a small writing community where nearly everyone knows everyone.  

Here’s a side note to reviewers who write angry reviews, not for attention, but out of honest, serious disappointment. I know it’s dreadful to read bad book after bad book, and if you have innumerable reviewing commitments, I can understand the bile.  But perhaps you should stop.  The times I’ve had trouble with vitriol were when I didn’t realize I was exhausted, and that could be what’s going on with you.  If this isn’t your livelihood, take a break until you can enjoy reading again.  Really.   

Here’s something I picked up from Jerry.  Despite what journalism class dictated, if something was potentially painful, I think it can be preferable to own that opinion by using an “I statement”.  So that grumpy reviewer could have said, “I felt that this book was a disappointing read as the protagonist rarely took action to help herself or anyone else, so it felt unreasonable for her village to conclude she must be their immortal savior.”  See? It’s logical, well-defended, and the writer recognizes he’s a humble book reviewer, not the Almighty Dictator of Literary Merit.  Is that an easy skill to learn?  Not at all.  

I’ve heard many reviewers say they are writing for readers, not writers.  However, I’ve heard enough reviewers complain about writers not reading their reviews to know that’s not a hundred percent honest. I’ve also heard it’s unreasonable and delusional for writers to conclude that a bad review reflects a bad reader, not a bad book.  Well…not always. 

It’s true many reviewers these days could be considered amateurs if they haven’t taken Critical Methods in school nor have previous experience reviewing before jumping head first into the blogosphere.  But so what? There’s nothing wrong with that and many, perhaps most, do a fantastic job.  But there’s a difference between amateur journalism and unprofessional journalism.  Now we’re seeing the “Unfair Overshare” problem cropping up where even a glowing review can decimate books sales because the review gave away the ending. Then there’s the “Indefensible Absolute” problem (“It’s impossible that anyone would enjoy this book”) that you nearly never used to see. 

What’s possibly worse is the new “Out of Element Review” problem.  Here’s an extreme example. Pretend there’s a site called Cozy Mystery Reviews, and a reviewer posts, “Yuck.  This mystery was hard-boiled, blood-drenched, and not at all cozy!  There wasn’t a single cat, fireplace, or cup of tea!  Boo, hiss.  Grade F!”  Readers looking at this review would be wondering why in the world this reader would choose this book for this site.  But it happens a lot.

I work with erotica authors, and this is a frequent problem for them and, to nearly the same degree, mainstream romance authors.  Scenes may trigger readers’ “squicks” (turn offs) and emotional boundaries that are unpredictable, often reflexive, and very often inconsistent.  It’s not uncommon to see a review contain a phrase like “Oh, I love BDSM books, but, ugh, after all that nice flogging, they French kissed.  Unacceptable!  2 stars.” 

There is something I was taught called Critical Distance which basically means that a reviewer is aware that a book was not written specifically for her/him and therefore should do the best possible job of transcending biases/preferences/tastes to look objectively at plot, character, and the quality of the prose.   It’s not an easy technique to acquire, but it’s important to make an attempt. 

What does this have to do with Out in Print?  There are too many times I’m seeing half apologies like “The reason I couldn’t get into this was the lesbian subplot turned my stomach, but that’s just me.  If that doesn’t bother you, you might like this novel as there’s some strong characterization and good writing.”  But the reader doesn’t get that far because at the top of the review, she sees the book only got two stars.  Why bother going further? 

Not that authors (myself included) are totally free from misbehavior.  You see statements posted on blogs or Facebook like “Jesus Christ, I bet that damn reviewer is selling my titles to Half-Priced Books” (true, they shouldn’t if they got a free galley, but keep reading) or “I would never have sent that site an ARC if I knew the review wouldn’t appear for three months!”

Not that long ago book reviewing was normally a paying occupation.  Now reviewers like Michiko Kakutani who are salaried, enjoy the ability to influence thousands or millions of readers, and are recognized with major awards are a tiny minority.

Today reviewing is largely a labor of love where little love is offered.  It’s also skilled labor that takes hours and hours each week.  I don’t condone selling galleys, particularly when that’s a pre-agreed upon condition as it is with Amazon Vine. But instead of losing sleep over resale fouls, let’s calculate how much a reviewer would make if somehow he did get paid an hourly rate, even at minimum wage, and then compare it to how much he’d receive from selling the book.  The reviewer invariably comes out way behind.  Also consider that publishers have been sending out free review copies for decades.  They would know by now if it was a losing proposition.  

So please, if you enjoy a review on Out in Print or found one useful, leave a comment. If you have a differing perspective on a book, participate.  Are there new small press books no one seems to know about, but need to be discovered?  Offer to write a few reviews. Last, please give Jerry, Bill, the other reviewers at Out in Print and reviewers everywhere who provide coverage of LGBT works a big thumbs up.  It is a rare privilege to have skilled, dedicated, and unbiased reviewers that give our literature the forum it deserves.

 

Gavin Atlas

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Songs for the New Depression – Kergan Edwards-Stout (Circumspect Press)

Buy it now.

I don’t have to like the narrator of a novel to be
engaged with it. Empathy certainly helps, but it isn’t necessary. I can think
of many wonderful books narrated by extremely dislikeable characters—one of my
all-time favorites, A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, being
the obvious front-runner. Gabriel Travers, the protagonist of Songs for the
New Depression
is no Ignatius J. Reilly, but he’s a despicable character
telling a marvelous story.

Gabe, a caustic, suspicious, mistrustful cynic, is dying of
AIDS, cared for by his boyfriend, Jon—who is the only person Gabe is unable to
alienate. He has nothing but scorn for his parents, Lenny and Gloria, his best
girlfriend Clare and the many tricks he has encountered. In every exchange that
calls for compassion or at least civility, Gabe manages to be sour, mean and
utterly unlikeable—which is what makes Songs for the New Depression so
damn fascinating.

The book is structured in a reverse linear fashion, each of
its three sections mirroring a song from Bette Midler’s third album, “Songs for
the New Depression.” It begins with Gabe in 1995 (the song is “Shiver Me
Timbers”), suffering from AIDS and trying to have a marvelous European vacation
with Jon as he tires and eventually gives out. The second part of the book
takes us to 1986 (the song is “Samedi et Vendredi”), Gabe in his
twenties—trying on and discarding faces and friends as he seeks to find his
place in the gay scheme of things. The third part takes place in 1976 (the song
is “Let Me Just Follow Behind”), and Gabe is in high school, recovering from an
abusive incident alluded to in the previous sections but explored in depth
here.

This reverse structure is brilliant. Layers of the adult
Gabe are peeled back, but rather than revealing the root cause of his
cynicism—as common sense would dictate the author do—Edwards-Stout instead
reveals that Gabe has always been like this and was, in fact, worse when
he was younger, for no apparent reason. Sometimes he gets close to being human,
but he always ends up saying the bitter thing rather than the right thing.

But the bitter thing is, many times, the telling thing. The
trenchent observation. The unutterable truth that no one else dare speak
because its very blasphemy underlies a fundamental veracity. In this, Gabe is
fearless—refusing to sugarcoat or varnish his words to spare anyone’s feelings.
It is his largest gift and his biggest fault.

Full of wit, wisdom and woe, Songs for the New Depression
is an ugly yet irresistable piece of fiction. Buy it for someone you hate.

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Father Tierney Stumbles – John Shekelton (iUniverse)

Buy the book now.

Make no mistake, Father Tierney Stumbles is a brave book that takes on not only the Catholic priesthood, but the subject of HIV positive priests—a topic with a multitude of fascinating aspects, even for a dyed-in-the-wool atheist. And it is a much needed book because it addresses issues many people haven’t thought of. I just wish it had been a better book.

Well-respected, handsome Father Joe Tierney is diagnosed as HIV positive after a fling with a young man, facing not only the implicit horrors of the disease along with its social and personal implications, but the loss of his parish and stature in the Catholic community. And his timing is lousy as well—a local reporter has just caused a commotion by publishing an article about AIDS among the city’s priests. Does Father Tierney bear these burdens stoically alone, keeping silent as an investigation goes on around him? Or should he come out publicly, putting a very human face on the problem? And if he comes out, what happens next?

Father Tierney Stumbles has some marvelous moments of poignancy and some heart-wrenching truths, especially in the scenes that take place in a secretive discussion group of HIV positive clergymen, where all bare their souls and share useful medical information. The plot also balances the personal aspect with just the right amount of church intrigue, not bogging down as Father Tierney (and his boss, Bishop Healy) make their respective decisions.

It’s the character of Father Tierney that I have some trouble with. He is lightly sketched rather than well-drawn, the most obvious flaw being that why he has stumbled is never dealt with in any depth. I understand that he has stumbled, but knowing why—what was missing from his life or from his faith that made him seek out the younger Kenny—would have helped me with not only how he reacts to his diagnosis but how he proceeds from there. Even more details as to his family life would have helped. We get to see the pieces of this puzzle, but we never understand how they all fit together.

Shekelton is far more successful with Angela Roth, the diocese’s PR and communications person and Pascal LaVigne, Tierney’s best friend. These characters are more realized, not suffering from the muddied telling instead of showing that troubles Tierney for me. Still, the entire book has an oddly distanced feel and seems to have little passion considering the intensity of the subject.

The problem with this is that these two are not the main character. It’s Tierney the book is named after so, ultimately, Tierney must be final yardstick by which it’s judged. And it falls short of the mark. Still, if you’re interested in the Catholic church and its reaction to the subject of gay priests, you might find this worthwhile.

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Remain in Light – Collin Kelley (Vanilla Heart Publishing)

Buy the book here.

Tired of your drab surroundings? Looking for excitement? Travel? Mystery? Then join Collin Kelley in the second installment of his Venus trilogy, Remain in Light. You’ll get boys, heartbreak, affairs, mysterious men and women, and more Paris than you can shake a baguette at.

Martin Paige, a young poet, is living in Paris with his older female friend, Irene Laureux, across the hall from his kind-of-boyfriend Euan McAvoy, but his heart belongs to the long-gone but not forgotten David McLaren—a drug dealer who stole Martin’s heart and disappeared, supposedly back to the States. However, Martin’s friend Diane Jacobs has found out David’s parents have lost track of him as well. Where is he? Why are the gendarmes looking for him? And how does all of this fit in with Irene’s late husband Jean-Louis, murdered thirty years ago by persons unknown during the Paris student and worker riots of 1968?

Even though it’s the second book of a trilogy, Remain in Light can be read as a standalone due to Kelley’s deft handling of the material found in the first book, revealed mostly through dialogue. The storyline is complex but not complicated—basically comprised of two intertwined mysteries. It is not a breathless, plot-centric mystery, relying instead on atmospherics to fuel its twists and turns. And Kelley’s sense of place is incredible, conjuring up Paris and the rue Rampon so vividly you are engulfed in the seedy dark side of the City of Light.

Kelley has a rather large cast here. Some are holdovers from the first installment, Conquering Venus, but many are introduced here for the first time—detectives, policemen, former lovers, current paramours, and mysterious benefactors. The number of characters is nearly Dickensian, but Kelley juggles them effortlessly, never dropping one as he heads relentlessly towards the “resolution.” I put that in quotes because Kelley does resolve the plot but leaves many avenues open for further exploration.

Be warned, however. This is no beach read. It’s literate and meaty, drawing upon many diverse sources for its inspiration—Proust, Dickens, and even Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo among them. You will not breeze through this, nor should you. Its sensibility should be savored and time taken to appreciate its subtleties of character and plot—especially Irene Laureux, an agoraphobic widow who needs to understand what happened to her husband by seeking his male lover, Frederick Dubois. She is a particularly tragic character, and Kelley inhabits her as well as he does the men.

Remain in Light is a wonderfully dark, sombre mystery steeped in Parisian culture as well as American know-how, creating its own little world you’ll be glad to inhabit. Here’s hoping the third installment comes soon.

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized