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SkinnyDippingIntoBooks

Skinny Dipping Into Books

I like the rain. I want to have a spring bookworming rain party full out with wellies—but not those Hunter Boots; absolutely not—, with yummy airy things like puffed pastries, meringues, mini fluffy cheese cakes, mousse dessert, macaroon, biscuits, crepe, and Earl Grey tea, definitely Earl Grey tea.  and Tillandsia. We'd have lots of "air plants". Lots! And We'd read, but not anything structured. We'd bring books, trade books, read out-loud, pass books around between sentences and paragraphs. We'd leave with books we hadn't discovered.

 

I like books like I like my Jazz; euphoric, dangerous, occasionally a bit manic, sorrowful, bleak, raging, mood-incongruent, mournful, unforgivingly ragged, symbolic in a quiet way, warm apple pie for the soul. Give me a Plath style. Yōko Ogawa, M. Roach,


Criteria: Not rated on likability of characters. Not objective. I like Moxie Soda; chances are you don't.


time spent in that before bed reading slot:

5-until blurry eye 4-Later than I intended, but I still kept to my extended, extended reading time 3-I really should have been to bed an hour ago  2-customary 30 minutes. 1-book. side table. eyes closed.


How are common themes handled?

5-With an aesthetic that repurposes everyday themes into something fresh. Think of Hole Celebrity Skin covered by Cat Power  4-there is a comfortable air of familiarly.
3-Deja Vu 2. No deviation from its mates  1. Devastatingly trite, redundant, and stale.

Where would you keep it post-reading?

5-Next to my bed.  4-it's the center piece of my favorite bookshelf 3. On my other favorite bookshelf, but it's a bit dusty over their 2-Great cheap bookends 1-It never made it out of the box marked 'moving'.


Emotional response-

5- Where is my teddy bear? Emotional-hangover 4- If I wasn't so emotionally stunted I'd cry.
3. Did James Cameron co-wrote this? Artfully contrived. 
2- calculative emotional manipulation. This was literally written by James Cameron.1- I…feel…..nothing.

Mechanics (plot structure, voice, presentation, word choice, sentence structure, characters, writing style, pacing, and consistency):

5-Chanel 4-Prada 3-J-Crew 2-Gap 1-Old Navy

Currently reading

The Complete Stories
Flannery O'Connor
I am No One You Know
Joyce Carol Oates
Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls
Alissa Nutting, Alissa Nutting
The Year of Ice - Brian Malloy

M/M literature is becoming less of an obscure genre, and one that has garnered a huge following. This alone is a remarkable achievement for a genre that had scant offerings and those that were mainstream were hidden in the ‘sexual development’ sections of bookstores (and I know… I used to secret agent them out as a teenager). It is even more delightful that the majority of these books are either from small independent publishers, or self published. There is this certain inherent credibility and integrity to authors that release their work in these ways.

 

These novels are an enormous wealth and each reader understands and values them differently. This is the uniqueness of gay lit. It can be informative for a young teenager struggling to comprehend the differences between himself and peers that hold affection for the opposite sex, inspiration for a person struggling with depression or suicide, offer a reminder that a sturdy, closed relationship is still a thing, while helping others understand that monogamy is often malleable. I just love, and can’t get enough of gay lit. However, recently there has been the injection of angst, self-defeating, and books that go along with the motto: if you are a fag the stereotypes are true, and you will always, always be lonely, into gay themed lit. In a small demographic, where additions to the genre are few and far between, these novels can have a deleterious effect on peoples’ perceptions of gays, both for those identifying as gay, as well as non-gays’ perception of gay people. Why am I yapping so much about this trend? Because I want to reinforce that this glorious achievement of a novel does not, I repeat not, succumb to a sad-porn style of gay writing.

 

In a slick, tightly woven writing style that is an exquisite example of first POV, Brian tells the eerily familiar story a high schooler’s budding sexual development. This book is a remarkable and welcoming addition to M/M lit, not because of its overall theme of sexual development, but because of the unique method of exploring it. The Year of Ice’s fellow bookshelf buddies often focus on sexual exploration as the main driving force of sexual identity. Sexual experience between two men is often the driving force for comprehending sexual identity. This book focuses more on the quality of the main character’s self-agency, masculinity, and his struggle to navigate the actual meaning of gayness, specifically mentally and physically. It also is a heavy, and gut-heaving reflection on intrapersonal aspects of sexuality and sexual identity.

 

Kevin is 17 at the start of the Year of Ice. He is popular, all the girls lust after him, he has a solid after school job, and we learn, through a nauseating amount of repetition, that he is one hell of a looker. He isn’t very smart, a C student at best, though I think this is a matter of applying himself, because his thoughts and brilliant corrosive sarcasm are beyond measure. Oh, if it isn’t apparent, he wears a straight man’s custom.

 

He is at war with his own sexual identity. He fancies/stalks a fellow classmate named Jon. His relationship with Jon is already turbulent because of some high school trivial masculinity hierarchy that reflects more the social strata of wolves, than it does humans, but on top of that he can’t calm his libido every time he sees Jon’s eyebrows. He has a few core friends, who don’t know he’s gay, and is relatively liked/feared. Somehow he endures multiple sexual episodes with a girl, even though they are a source of personal torture and to a large extent undermine his identity/ These, among others, are the systems that are restricted and constricted by his confusions over his sexual identity. I should point out that I don’t believe he was as much closeted, as he was trying to figure out the details of his sexuality, and how they fit into his life. Tim Wyman syndrome.

Outside the wrecking ball of pretending to be straight, Kevin’s life has a detailed list of knife cuts. His mother died of an apparent accident, but that’s slightly questionable, or is it? His father is absent, detached, and at times physically abusive. The father has little to no accountability, and relegates Kevin to a position of adulthood, forcing his kid to integrate and claim responsibility for his own mistakes.


His friends, while sturdy and essential to his wellbeing are mostly obsessed with ‘cars, tits, and tits’, and he often complains that there is little depth to these relationships. He later finds out, as his dad’s life spirals out of control and as a result his own, that most of the relationships, past and present, that he counted on were tainted by his father’s arrogance and immaturity. He has a few sturdy adult relationships, but mostly they are as rocky as his own self-identity. There is one really solid adult connection but he ends up in a ‘sauna’ and he isn’t waking up. His aunt, while aggressive, is a source of stability. And some, like Chuck, are full of mindfuckery. And the really shit part is, straight people, you do this too much to gay people. And gay fashion alert: he dresses in plaid, and if Banana Republic didn’t shit out so much for the past two seasons this may see bit farmer and not so cool—it still isn’t! —, but I guess this was only a problem for me.

 

So we have Stud Kevin, trying to figure out his own life, the life beyond senior year, the life of being gay, all the while dealing with the mess that is his life; a care packages delivered by dad. As he leaves high school, his sexuality starts to bloom. He is no longer the awkward teenager that dated girls to maintain an image, he is less likely to frequent keggers, and he is more willing to accept himself as gay. We bare witness to the hilarity—because we all can relate—of deciphering and writing personal ads. And, if you are like me, you’ll slide lower in your seat as you read the all too relatable scene where he attempts to enter a gay bar, after winding his way around the block a billion and one times.

 

As he enters his post-high school years, where he proudly attends college, he is exposed to a whole different microcosm of life that flourishes with potential. He meets a few people along the way that detract from the overall successfulness of understanding his sexuality, but these are fleeting and temporary. Some aid in self-discovery, but these too are brief. He meets people that appear essential to his sexual development, and while one could argue that the merger of them does amass the individual parts of his sexuality, most of these people are whispers in his history, and it’s all too fucking real and sad and heart-breaking, and big loud screaming “FUCK I can’t, as a reader, take this anymore”. This is one of my biggest gripes. I reject the notion, once again, that gay life has to be so sad and horrible, that it must be so challenging, and that the sum of a gay man’s parts needs to be tragedy and emotional needles. I am not oblivious to the inherent torture and loneliness of not understanding who you are, and once figuring it out, understanding that those around you are often not your allies, but enemies to your self-agency and identify. And I realize that it takes a lot of work to feel something of ‘it got better’, that it’s always one hell of a cluster-fuck, but where’s the goodness, Brian, in Kevin’s life? Cause there seems to be so little. And, as always with these books, the books that have a potential to ignite further despondency *, I say again and again, to the kids and adults who are angry, mad, sad, confused, etc, that this isn’t all that there is, cause being gay, its freaking marvelous.

 

Somehow, in a way that makes sense to the Kevin we met, and the Kevin we watched grow, all these things arrange themselves in a constellation that Kevin may not be able to accept or yet fully understand and may struggle against, but they are the Kevin we meet and the Kevin we cheered along the way, and this Kevin, well there’s some hope. The ending doesn’t come to some closure of grand self-awareness for Kevin, but more reflects fractures in those things that anchored him, leaving a new horizon of possibilities, the most important being acceptance, and the understanding that, with time it will all make sense.

 

There were a few issues. I felt his relationship with Jon was surface level, and there needed to be more tension, a higher level of dynamics. There interactions were so scarce that I couldn’t quite rationalize Kevin’s obsession with him. The mind numbing number of times the book broached Kevin’s attractiveness was unnecessary. There were some inconsistencies; the most glaring, “I’ve never touched a guy in my life, apart from slapping or hitting and occasionally shaking a hand”. So that whole biting ass scene?!? And, while welcoming, and often a relief from his deep analysis of his own sexuality, his jokes and sarcasm started to feel like the same material recycled. However, these are just minor issues of an otherwise successful piece.

 

Kevin’s mind is a scared mind. It’s a curious mind. It’s a horny mind. It’s a ‘what the fuck does M4M mean and what is a top and a bottom?” mind. It’s a sad mind. It’s a devastated mind. It’s an envious mind. It’s a vengeful mind. It’s a mind that I can find all too relatable. And for all this, we should really fucking applaud for Brian, cause shit, did he get this one right.

 

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