Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Oh, a most mesmerizingly good novel

Geoff Ryman's Lust, or No Harm Done (actually the American subtitle seems to be "Four Letters. Infinite Possibilities"). I really loved this--I think I first heard about Ryman at Shaken & Stirred, then thought of him again when I saw his recent short essay about the people who died in the London bombings last month (Ryman's interactive novel 253, which I haven't read, is about the passengers on a Tube train, thus the essay assignment). I was in the library last week and grabbed a few of his books off the shelf (note to self: STOP CHECKING BOOKS OUT OF THE LIBRARY).

This novel is metaphysical and sexy and sweet and funny and sad and pretty much exactly what I most like. I was reminded a bit of Jonathan Carroll and also strangely of aspects of Neil Gaiman's forthcoming Anansi Boys--I have always been fond of the alternate selves/twin conceit--only really this book is like nothing but itself. I'm pasting in a description from Publisher's Weekly via Amazon, but it doesn't at all do the book justice (I hate the word wacky--it's second only to whimsical for most annoying book-review adjective, when I see either of them I know that either I'll loathe the book or else I thoroughly disapprove of the reviewer's sensibility):

"Reality's got a hole in it." That's what runs through Michael Blasco's head when he discovers that he has the uncanny ability to bring his fantasies to life in this wacky, inspired third novel by Ryman (Was). The 38-year-old gay protagonist is a government scientist experimenting on baby chicks and has a flat in London's West End with Phil, his passionless boyfriend. While seething on a subway platform, he imagines the beefy trainer at his gym stripping naked right in front of him-and poof-it happens! Terrified at first, Michael quickly regains his composure and wills into action a series of characters like Tarzan and cartoon diva Taffy Duck; narcissistically, he also conjures a copy of himself. His reunion with a long-lost high school sweetheart nicknamed Bottles proves to be touching and funny, but his meeting with Mark, a victim of AIDS, turns sad when Mark rebuffs his plea to revive him. In an effort to inject passion into his stagnant relationship, Michael "calls up" a younger version of Phil paired with a younger version of himself. When this scheme backfires, he returns to the anonymous "speedy, functional sex" that has long sustained him. A night out with feisty Billie Holiday, passionate sex with Picasso and dalliances with Lawrence of Arabia on Viagra reinvigorate him and make for some funny, titillating reading, but as Michael's notebook of his wild adventures begins to overflow, the story's whimsical tone changes, revealing more of his true character as well as some particularly troublesome personal problems. Among them is a disturbing boyhood fixation on his father, which mutates into a wincingly unnerving incestuous sequence. Ryman's "careful-what-you-wish-for" message is artfully packaged in this quirky, offbeat, entertaining novel.

Get it and see for yourself. I wouldn't say it's a careful-what-you-wish-for novel, or an allegory, or anything like that, just a very good novel about redemption. Amazing stuff.

Other light reading, around the edges of insane packing and planning: Carol Plum-Ucci's The She (not bad, a bit too young-adult-y for my taste--perhaps this is an unfair criticism, but the best books for this age group can compete with any adult fiction on their own terms while this one reminds you in various ways that it was written "for" teenagers) and Jan Burke's Remember Me, Irene (very good).

Posting will be sporadic over the next week and a half, but I expect I'll pop in now and then.

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