Monday, January 31, 2011

Moonspun by Lee Benoit

TITLE: Moonspun
AUTHOR: Lee Benoit
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 43k)
GENRE: Gay paranormal erotic romance
COST: $5.99

Playwright Jamie Cowan isn’t having the easiest time of it. His writing isn’t flowing, his roommates are making him uncomfortable, and he’s being turned into an errand boy for the theater producing his play. When he picks up an order from the tailor, he meets Spider, the enigmatic, beautiful owner of the shop, and wonders for the first time if he’s met someone he can be with. But Spider has a secret, one he’s never shared with anyone else, and he has no idea how Jamie will react if ever finds out the truth…

I have tremendous respect for this author. While I may not purchase all of her titles, or love everything I read, she’s one of the more literate, intelligent m/m authors I’ve come across in the genre. That makes it harder to admit how much this book just didn’t work for me.

Jamie Cowan is a young budding playwright, recently transplanted from his sheltered upbringing in Maine to Sister City and the first professional production of his work. Life is not what he expected it to be. Though he isn’t out of the closet, he does recognize his desire for a relationship, but finds himself uncomfortable with the blatant displays of his roommates. His writing isn’t flowing, either, so his available time is getting him relegated to errand boy. It’s on one of these errands he meets Spider. Spider owns a tailor shop and is the most beautiful man Jamie has ever seen even if he’s shy and overly polite. Spider’s neighbor, however, overwhelms Jamie. She talks of Santeria and puts a bead bracelet on his wrist, making it very obvious she’s matchmaking between the two young men. Spider is attracted to Jamie, but he has a secret he doesn’t believe anybody will ever understand. When the moon rises, he’s forced to sit at his loom and weave until it sets again. The tapestries he creates seem to foretell a future, but they’re melancholy and dark, at least until Jamie arrives in his life.

It’s obvious almost from the start that the author is attempting to integrate magical realism with genre fiction, in this case, m/m erotic romance. It’s a valiant effort, but I honestly don’t think it ever worked. The dreamy quality that often accompanies magical realism in literary fiction isn’t a natural fit with most faster-paced genre stories, so it has to compensate in other ways in order to draw a reader in. For instance, the characters could sparkle, demanding attention when the action doesn’t supply it, or the prose can be so beautiful, it’s impossible not to savor it. I found neither in this short novel.

Jamie and Spider are both terribly innocent, neither truly comfortable with his sexuality, both relatively ignorant of their chosen professions. Jamie is the country mouse living in the city, and Spider, while knowledgeable in the tools of his trade, has never truly delved into the reasons behind his moon weaving. The latter is actually very typical of magical realism – that which is unexplained is merely accepted as the way it is – and Spider’s attitude toward it, as well as his inability to explain it to anybody’s satisfaction, wouldn’t be a problem if it wasn’t also weighed down by Jamie’s naivete. It lends a sweetness to their romance, but at the same time, their almost constant passivity regarding each other and the events of their lives is very frustrating. The juxtaposition of Jamie’s more contemporary nature with Spider’s more ethereal one never gels, either, since Jamie’s constant questioning about what is going on jars me from buying into the magic whole-heartedly.

These might not be issues for me if I could bury myself in the prose, but unfortunately, that’s not the case. While there are some beautiful turns of phrase scattered throughout the story (comparing the taste of Spider’s erection as “silvery, like blood and moonlight” still lingers with me), there aren’t nearly enough to lift it above its sluggish pacing or frustrating characterizations. It alternates between reading too contemporary or too ethereal, and doesn’t ever manage to blend the two without leaving the seams exposed.

If I can’t enjoy it for its literary qualities, and I can’t enjoy it for the romance, I’m left not really enjoying it at all. I wanted to. I really did. The beginning showed promise, even if it was slow, because I was so intrigued by the magical journey it hinted at. But I didn’t. I struggled with the last third of the story and finished it very underwhelmed. The author tried, but she’s done better in my opinion. Much better.


6/10 – The prose isn’t graceful enough to counter the dreamy pacing, turning it into a sluggish read

Hero #1

6/10 – His naivete might add to the story’s texture, but it also slows it down and leaves me frustrated

Hero #2

5/10 – Intriguing but ultimately too passive

Entertainment value

4/10 – Ultimately it failed to engage me as either magical realism or romance

World building

6/10 – Though I can appreciate what I think the author was striving for, the final result is very underwhelming



1 comment:

K. Z. Snow said...

"I have tremendous respect for this author. While I may not purchase all of her titles, or love everything I read, she’s one of the more literate, intelligent m/m authors I’ve come across in the genre."

Hear, hear! Lee's an incredibly smart and imaginative writer.