(Hey harpijka, I finally read it!! :D)
So a friend of mine has been agitating for years that I should read the Donald Strachey series, seeing as how they’re “mystery with a gay” rather than “gay with a mystery,” of the torsos-on-the-cover variety, but they’re quite old (first one was published in 1979) and I’d been having trouble getting my hands on them.
Then I moved to California, and suddenly I’m in the same town as the Lavender Library, repository of all books gay, and holy cats, I thought I knew a thing or two about gay fiction but I’ve got nothing on them. And lo and behold, they’ve got the Strachey series — which is good, because I own books 2 and 4, but not books 1 and 3. ::le sigh::
Back in August I was telling one of my random hookups about my 107 books project and he asked, “Which one are you least looking forward to reading?” And my answer was, “Uhm… none of them?” Because I wouldn’t have bought them if I didn’t want to read them, right.
Okay, so — this was difficult to review, because it was everything I want in a book, except for when it wasn’t.
So I tried to read a book today, since I’m moving again in August and I could do without hauling
six thirteen boxes of books with me this time. I didn’t get very far.
Because GAWD, literary fiction is dull.
I think what it boils down to is that I have absolutely no patience for protagonists whose fictional lives are less interesting than my real life. Bored, spoiled young aristocrat whose only interests are meaningless sex and being judgy? Gag me with a goddamn spoon. Or better yet, gag him.
And it kills me that this genre — these dreary, monumentally tedious accounts of ennui and promiscuity — is almost all that gay men ever write. This is the literature of my people, and yet it’s all I can do to slog through my self-imposed 50-page minimum before I’m like, FUCK THIS NOISE, I’D RATHER READ X-MEN FANFIC. >:(((((
(Incidentally, the reason why this book wound up on my shelf: a number of boys that OkCupid has tried to hook me up with listed Swimming-Pool Library as one of their favorites, and I thought it’d be nice to have some common ground. Yeah not so much, because “WHY WOULD YOU LIKE THAT BOOK? EXPLAIN YOURSELF!” may be a conversational gambit that works on me, but I’ve gathered that other people find it off-putting.)
It’s frustrating, and I can’t quite put my frustrations into words, because I want to be able to appreciate literary fiction. This is the stuff that’s supposed to be objectively high quality, but all I get when I read it are sporadically keen observations about people, protagonists whose reactions and thought processes are nothing like what I’d do or what I can relate to, and not giving any fucks about what they’re doing, usually because they don’t give any fucks. Relationships, romantic and otherwise, are utterly boring because the protagonist has an emotional range that runs the gamut from horny to disdainful. Yes, fine, it’s realistic, but it’s the kind of realism you can get by going outside and not enjoying your day.
How does anyone like this? I’m honestly at a loss.
In other news, I’ve wandered back over to the X-Men: First Class fandom now that ficcers have had time to write epics, and it is delightful! Erik and Charles, christ, the more I read of them the more they break my heart, because they are one of the most perfect tragedies in all of literature.
So rather than recommending Swimming-Pool Library, I’ll rec you some fics instead:
Most anything by AO3 writer Yahtzee; my standout favorites are Winter of Banked Fires, which gets my Best in Fandom award for post-X3 fix it fics, Enigma, and Anarchy in the UK. I like this author for a lot of reasons, but mostly because her work is intensely emotional and even in AUs does total justice to the depth and difficulty of their relationship. (Just don’t expect uncomplicated happy endings — that’s not what you go into XMFC fandom for.)
If You Liked the Book, You’ll Hate the Movie, which is a high school AU, of all things, but really good. Absorbing, atmospheric, frequently hilarious — vaguely like magical realism, in that there’s nothing outright impossible going on, but a lot of things that, when taken together, are sort of improbable. Seriously, I enjoy this more than I can explain why.
In brief: weird little book, very fast read, interesting ideas but I don’t think I particularly liked it.
Set in Finland, the main character is a gay photographer called Angel (real name Mikael) who comes across an injured troll cub being picked on by some teenage hooligans. He is immediately taken with the troll, and after the hooligans have been chased off, takes it back to his apartment even though this is self-evidently a Very Bad Idea. Trolls, in this world, are a species of wild animal in Scandinavia, reclusive and rare but well-documented as fact, so the greater question is what the hell was it doing in the city. Angel names the troll Pessi and becomes increasingly obsessed with it, layered heavily with sexual overtones even though it’s very young and an animal, and it all ends badly.
Troll lost me with the characters, really, because I could have been onboard for much weirder if I’d liked the people in it. Unfortunately all of Sinisalo’s characters fall into one of two categories: actively unlikable, or just pathetic. I see that in general fiction a lot, as if authors think that dreary characters will make their work more ~realistic~ when really they just make it tedious. Angel is a manipulative narcissist; the guy he has a crush on is the same, only worse; the guys who have a crush on Angel are pathetic; Angel’s Filipina neighbor is irrelevant to the story and also pathetic. And maybe that’s realistic, but it set up a narrative distance that kept me from becoming the slightest bit invested in anyone, and from giving any sort of fuck about what happens to them.
Which is a shame, because I wanted to like this book — I like Finland (my father’s side of the family is Finnish) and I really like the “monsters as love interests” trope. But Pessi is not a love interest or even a character, he’s more like a really weird feral cat that the main character gets an inexplicable hard-on for. If Pessi had been slightly more human in his intelligence, then it could have been about the two of them, the human trying to relate to the alien and vice versa; as it stands, it’s all about Angel, and Pessi is interchangeable with anything else that Angel could project his obsession onto.
I’m going to hold off from any extended analysis until I’ve read the last one, because there’s still a lot of plot stuff to get wrapped up, but Rope of Thorns was a worthy successor to Book of Tongues. A number of the things I’d said were vague in the first book get explained better here (re: the Aztec mythology and Rook’s motivations), Ed Morrow gets more developed as a character, and some kickass ladies join the cast.
There’s less of what I enjoyed the most about Book of Tongues — Chess and the Reverend being crazy about each other, all over each other — but my worry that their relationship would drop off the map was premature. Despite spending most of the book a couple hundred miles apart, they are still at the center of each other’s universes, for good or for ill.
And Chess Pargeter — brutal, callous, contrary Chess Pargeter — is shown to be that rarest of things: a character who can change.
The tragedy will be if Rook can’t do the same.
In other news, I’m also reading John Boswell’s Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe, which is enormously intellectually stimulating, but also very slow going, since his style makes the process more like gymnastics than reading. Hint: brush up on your Greek. (And Latin, and Slavic, and French, and Aramaic, and…)
I think a Guy Gavriel Kay would not go amiss for my next fiction book.