Friday, November 28, 2008

Lavender Skies by Stephen Kelley Roos

TITLE: Lavender Skies
AUTHOR: Stephen Kelley Roos
PUBLISHER: Literary Road
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 65k)
GENRE: Gay contemporary humor
COST: $5.50

Trey Olson arrives on his Uncle Mars’ doorstep expecting to be able to sponge off his relative’s supposed wealth from his acting career, to discover the man’s so-called gated community, Lavender Skies, is actually a trailer park where for the most part the elderly eccentric come to live out their last years. Each trailer is named after a Hollywood classic, but the residents prove to be even more colorful than their homes. There’s orgies, love affairs, secret love children, real estate scams, and, oh yeah, an ex-Mafia guy with a thirty-five year standing appointment with his boyfriend. Trey’s not sure what exactly he’s walked into…

Tell me how I’m supposed to resist looking at a blurb that describes the story as a fun read in the tradition of E.F. Benson and Armistead Maupin (…or if you’re not the literary type, it’s like “The Golden Girls” and “The Nanny” were gay guys). The excerpt, which is the opening scene of the book, has an 87 year-old ex-showgirl with orange hair, cowboy boots, and a physical description that paints her this side of grotesque, walking through Palm Springs in August with a shopping cart and her 65 year-old Eurasian son, Vivian. It’s vulgar, and over the top, and completely not PC, and I just had to see more. So I bought it. Does it live up to its initial promise? Yes and no.

I haven’t seen this many colorful characters all grouped together – and mostly completely distinct – in an e-book in a long time. There’s Frannie and Vivian from the opening, who share a trailer called Beach Blanket Bingo with Saul, a retired professor from Boston who’s obsessed with the retired Marine next door who insists on walking around nearly naked and goes by The Commander, and Wayne Fontaine from Boar’s Head, Wisconsin, who leads HIV support groups and works part-time as a realtor. Then there’s Connie and Butch, the resident lesbian couple, LaSalle LeSueur, the resident orgy organizer and so-called distant cousin to Joan Crawford, and Federico, the ex-opera singer who’s been having an affair with Ginger Biscotti the Mafia hitman for thirty-five years. Do you see what I mean about colorful? What’s even nicer is that most of these characters stand out. It takes a little while to get the more normal names straight – these are just the extra memorable ones – but once I did, I believed each and every one.

Don’t expect anything remotely PC about this. Part of this story’s appeal is its sheer vulgarity. It has no qualms about going over the top and then trying to find someplace else to climb even higher. The plots are all straight out of soap operas, which means things happen out of the blue, coincidences occur just to keep things going, and being a secret love child means misunderstandings galore.

It’s not always an easy read. Editorially, it’s a bit of a mess, with tense changes the biggest offender of the bunch. There’s a lot of jump cutting between scenes, which is inevitable when there is this much stuff going on. If you don’t pay attention, you’ll get lost. The author seems a little too obsessed with describing – in painstaking detail – décor and locations, which drags down the otherwise manic prose. If you’re not familiar with movie history, a lot of the references might be lost on you. That’s half of what these characters live for. It’s fun to read if you’re into that thing – which I am – but a warning for those who aren’t.

Is it high art? Absolutely not. Does it entertain? Well, I most definitely was. I’m not sure it’s as slap your knee funny as the blurb maintains, but I’ve spent a lot of money on stories I didn’t enjoy nearly as much as this one.


6/10 – Editorial issues, a fascination with décor, and a cast of dozens hold back the manic prose


8/10 – Over the top personalities might border on stereotypical, but they almost all stand out, even when they’re lost in a crowd.


5/10 – The actual plot meanders all over the place, jump-cutting from characters to characters, which makes it difficult in the beginning to keep everything straight.

Entertainment value

7/10 – In spite of its excessiveness and vulgarity – or maybe because of it – I laughed out loud quite a bit.

World building

8/10 – It’s garish and too much, but you know, I saw it playing out anyway.



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