Thursday, August 27, 2009

Call The Back Passage

Finished Call Me by Your Name and am now reading The Back Passage. Wow, night to day.

CMbYN left me with mixed feelings. Although I ended up becoming engrossed in the protagonists' journey, and found Elio's character particularly poignant at the end (yes, I did tear up), I later got angry. Why? Because, unlike Brokeback Mountain, there was really no excuse for these men not to get together.

The story takes place from roughly 1985 to 2005. Both protags move in liberal artistic and academic circles, in Europe as well as on the U.S. eastern seaboard. The narrator's parents are seemingly accepting-- and the father, even envious--of his affair with Oliver. If each man viewed the other as his "heart of hearts," what kept them apart?

Not the time or the place(s), and surely not social or peer pressure. Not the men's sexual dynamic or a gross imbalance of feeling. Not parental disapproval. What, then?

I know from personal experience that the need to be with one's "soulmate" is not eroded by time, distance, or circumstance. I know this. So, ultimately, I felt manipulated by the author. I felt he'd thrown up completely illusory barriers to keep the men separated. Was this a case of angst for the sake of angst? Don't know.

Anyway, on to The Back Passage by James Lear (2006, Cleis Press).

So far, I love it! I love the narrator's insouciant voice and attitude and his self-indulgent carnality. He makes no excuses for himself. I love how the author plays fast and loose, in an affectionate, tongue-in-cheek way, with British "drawing room" character types and family intrigue and all the other norms of cozy mysteries. Although I'd expected this book to be raunchy, it's far tamer than most current m/m erotic romance -- mine included. But the narrator's sheer, unapologetic horniness, combined with the author's solid prose and delightful irreverence, have put back the happy in me that CMbYN sucked away.

I just need to get through this period of compulsive reading so I can return to writing! (I'll tell you about my new project within the week, as well as a development related to me and Samhain.)


MB (Leah) said...

I've had The Back Passage in my TBR pile for a long time. Ever since Kiwi Sarah reviewed it way back. Shame on me that I haven't gotten to it yet.

So many books I need to keep bumping up to the front. I like what you had to say about it. Makes me even more interested in reading it.

I love when a character is just out there with who they are, or more to the point, that an author writes in such a way that there's a kind of release in reading something. A certain lack of apology, which is very nice. I feel that from so few authors.

Obsidian Bookshelf said...

I enjoyed The Back Passage both as a mystery and a comedy. I'm not sure how the author got away with such a title, ha, ha!

Tam said...

I haven't read the first one but quite enjoyed the Back Passage. Sure its totally unrealistic for the time but it's fun. I have the Secret Tunnel waiting but I haven't started it yet. Must. It takes place on a train apparently, more Orient Express but with more sex. LOL

K. Z. Snow said...

Leah, sounds like you would like this.

Val, the wonderful thing about the title is that it's like a private joke between author and reader. The Back Passage seems like a perfect, and perfectly innocuous, title for a manor-house mystery. Lear has a great sense of humor.

Tam, the two stories are very different. Call Me by Your Name is definitely "literary" fiction, and it's rather depressing. That's not to diminish Lear's work, though. It's a very well-written (and well-edited) book.

Obsidian Bookshelf said...

"The Back Passage seems like a perfect, and perfectly innocuous, title for a manor-house mystery."

I must be reading too much m/m. The innocuous meaning wasn't the first thought that came to my mind! (Aside from this one, I can't rememeber the last time a title made me burst out laughing.)

K. Z. Snow said...


Yup, too much of the erotic stuff, Val!

Since hidden chambers and secret passageways are a staple of older mysteries -- a cliche, actually -- the title is a delightful double entendre.

Obsidian Bookshelf said...

You're right! I think he did the same thing with the title of the sequel (haven't read it).

Kris said...

I got sad and then I got angry too. I couldn't for the life of me understand why the heck they didn't end up together when it was pretty obvious how they felt for each other. My conclusion was cowardice (sp?), especially on Oliver's side. Maybe I was a little cross/sad though when I hit on that and clung to it.

K. Z. Snow said...

I considered the cowardice issue too, Kris, then immediately wondered, Well, if Oliver is such a freaking coward, why does he bother returning to Italy or seeing Elio in the U.S. at all? Wouldn't he avoid his old homo flame like the Plague?

It simply made no sense to me and still doesn't. I appreciate angst as much as the next sappy chick, but I get resentful when it's employed simply to jerk around the reader.

Maybe I missed some character or situational nuance. I'll probably read the book again to find out.

Jeanne said...

Will I be beaten with a wet noodle if I admit that I've taken a break from reading m/m and am trying to catch up on some authors whose writing I just plain enjoy?
I have a thing for Kelley Armstrong's werewolves. They're so civilised...sort of.
And I like *her*. She's very interactive with her fans and was one of the first authors who responded to several emails from me years ago.
She also does strong women in a paranormal setting and stuff.
Then there's good old JD Robb GASP!
I've read each of the zillion In Death books, and her latest is definitely her best. "Salvation in Death" had me guessing who dunnit and what the motive was just about till the ending. There was a nice new vibe with Roarke -- and he's worth the books alone *grin*
I've got one of the LKH books - I like the sex *shrug*
And a book by Simon Green, "The Spy Who Haunted Me" to begin.
JAK also with her Arcan Society books. Also responds to fans. Sent her a note because I was feeling nostalgic and told her how long I've been reading her stuff and that she inspired me to write (and she did!) She wrote back. Nice little note.
I catch movies on TV with gay themes.
Saw a great documentary/play today
"Semper Fi" Jeff Key who joined the marines at 34 after he'd come out at home. Went to Iraq and had his eyes opened. Wasn't asked, but told and well, you know.
So, that's what I'm doing at night before I go to bed and after I've sat down and worked on the latest wip

K. Z. Snow said...

Well, shame on you for reading outside your genre! :-)

I, too, will be venturing into the wild, blue m/f yonder with a book I just won from Joey Hill. It came with a lovely, personal inscription. Joey's another author who's not only bright and enormously talented, but a real sweetheart. (Got started in the EC stable, just like yourse truly!)

What I usually do as a break from writing is read nonfiction -- historical stuff, primarily. But recently I've felt a hunger for m/m fiction "classics." Good thing they're available in softcover; I don't have an e-reader, and it's a real strain to read works of any length on my desktop...especially after I've been writing all day.

Have fun, Jeanne!