Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Book Review: Mardi Gras by A.B. Gayle

I recently did an interview with Author A.B. Gayle, so I was a little hesitant about reading her work. The interview went well, in a way that surprised me. She asked questions as if she really "got" what I was trying to do with my books. My biggest concern about reading her work was that I might not like it.

However, the minute I began Mardi Gras I knew on page one I'd found something I was going to enjoy. I can tell by the first five pages, or less, whether or not a writer knows what he/she is doing with regard to actually crafting a novel or a short work of fiction. And nothing puts me off more than lack of knowledge and skill...said bookisms, dialogue tags with too many adverbs, no dialogue tags at all, too much dialogue that doesn't help move the story forward. For those who know better, it's not always easy to spot great writing. But bad writing is as transparent as low rent origin no matter how you try to dress it up.

From the first paragraph of Mardi Gras, I was drawn into the story by A.B. Gayle's neat, clean, tight writing style. Instead of reading a mundane romance, I knew I was reading that rare combination of literature and romance combined. The next aspect that caught my attention was the setting. The entire story revolves around Mardi Gras in Sydney, Australia, which is someplace I've always wanted to go. The romance alone, for me, with respect to Australia, was more than enough to keep me reading. And the way the setting is described, in more than one place in the book, creates a detailed explanation that made me feel as though I were actually there. This is the kind of escape I'm looking for when I'm reading anything.

It's going to be difficult to get into the plot without giving out spoilers. But I will be careful. I don't want to ruin anything for those who haven't read this book. The main theme revolves around Damien, an American writer, who travels to Sydney for Mardi Gras. He's keeping his visit on the down low, because he's a journalist/blogger and he recently trashed Mardi Gras on his blog. He feels the event has drifted away from its original goals, and there's no political significance anymore. This, I believe, is something a lot of gay men can relate to these days everywhere. I'm forty years old and I've seen changes I'm not thrilled with when it comes to gay pride events. Damien, in the book, is fifty, and he seems to wish there was more integrity in these cultural events that used to mean so much to so many people. He's a character I liked from the beginning. There's nothing fake about him. He's tough, yet vulnerable.

The first surprise in the story involves a character Damien meets at the airport. This character is twenty-five years younger and he was sent to meet Damien. At first, I thought I could predict what would happen next. But I was wrong. I can't get into anymore now or I'll ruin it. Just trust me on this: you'll want to know more about this character, and his relationship with Damien, as the book progresses.

A few elements that resonated with me were things like Damien's blog, and how he relates to his blog readers and the people who comment on his blog regularly. It's a very current situation that a lot of people can relate to these days. And I don't always see this in fiction in the mainstream. I also liked the little tidbits of humor, sometimes riding the thin line of cutting edge. This is a quote with regard to Australian accents that I thought was perfect:

Even Meryl Streep had difficulty impersonating an Aussie.

Even though the story isn't too long...65...pages...I did see nice character development. Damien seems to grow warmer and more open as the story progresses. He drops a lot of his defenses. And he cares so much he's willing to settle for nothing more than an online relationship if that's what it takes to keep this young man in his life.

We'd only met physically for the first time less than twenty-four hours ago, but I knew, from months of interaction on the blog, just how stubborn he could be. If I crossed over the street before he saw me, he wouldn't follow. That would be the end; he would drop out of my life forever. I couldn't do it. No matter what had happened today . . . tonight, I hoped we could still have some degree of friendship, the ability to discuss issues that were important to both of us, even if only connected over the Internet.

Damien also seems to be planning for the future, even though he's not quite ready to admit this to himself. And he continues to grow from there. And, once again, this excerpt is an example of how wonderfully written this book is. It was one of those passages that I read more than once.

Here's something I think all of us can understand, men and women, gay or straight, when we become interested in someone younger.

This was too much information and too close to the bone. It was bad enough knowing I'd made an idiot of myself with a man so much younger than myself and now to find I came under the classification of 'one of those,' tired old men who chased boys who were barely legal.

I tried to pull my hand away, but he clasped it in both of his. "Instead, you were just so young, normal . . . ."

The author managed to pick up on all Damien's insecurities in one neat, short paragraph...and all the things I was thinking while I was reading between the lines of this book. I was actually dying for Damien, hoping and praying he wouldn't get shot down.

As for sex scenes and heat, there are a few. But I wouldn't classify this as a m/m romance with tons of hot sex. The sex that is there is appropriate to the story. In this case, anything more would not have worked with the story. And if the sex scenes that are there were to be removed, the story would still stand on its own. As I said earlier, this story has a literary feel to it in more ways than one. And when I'm reading something literary, I want the sex scenes to be incorporated in a way that makes them relevant to the story. Though I don't do this often myself, because I tend to write more sex in most books, I have done it with stories like Strawberries and Cream at the Plaza, and I know how hard it can be to make it work. A.B. Gayle did, indeed, make this work. The story didn't need anymore sex than it had.

To sum it up, this is a story where two people meet for the first time, one twenty-five years older than the other. They come from different backgrounds and cultures, and yet they have a great deal in common. But then they already know each other fairly well through an online experience, where they've already exposed many of their true feelings. It's also a story about confusion, and how online interaction can often mislead people into believing things that may or may not be accurate. As the story progresses, we feel hints of sorrow at certain points. We also feel the frustration and we want things to work out for Damien. I can't go into any more detail because I don't want to ruin the story for anyone. But if I did have a rating system, I would give this book five stars. And I will recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading m/m fiction without thinking twice.

About the author:

Unlike many authors, A.B. Gayle has not been writing stories all her life. Instead, she's been living life.


A.B.Gayle said...

Sorry I took so long to comment and thank you, Ryan. I've been at work all day!

I'm glad you enjoyed the story. I do hope to write a sequel sometime soon.

You've picked up on some aspects other reviewers missed, but which were there deliberately.

I did a fair bit of research beforehand to capture this intergenerational change.

The story is continuing with current arguments based around the inclusion of the supportive hetero community and making it just a celebration.

I still maintain that gay people need their opportunity to be "different" and these differences should be celebrated, not just tolerated or accepted.

Thanks again, I do appreciate the thoughtfulness of every comment you made.


ryan field said...

I wish I'd mentioned more about the historical aspects as they relate to gay culture. I liked how you incorporated them into the story in such subtle ways. There was so much I wanted to say and still keep it short so people wouldn't get turned off with a long blog post.