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[357] Consolation – Jonathan Strong

” I’m talking about what goes on inside each of us. I listen to Darren’s vehemence about his identity and start confusing him with me. He brings things back I thought I’d finished with. ” [158]

Nudged in the midwest is a dreamy town ironically called Wakeland, where everyone seems to be making art. Represented here are slices of middle-class America that identify themselves as artists. The setting, dominated by a college, is such carefully controlled environment that allows you see the outside world while shielding you from its every danger and inconvenience. In the middle of the web of intersecting lives that populate the contemplative novel is Darren, an openly gay teenager who aspires to be a poet. Defying the notion that underground life seems a perpetual reality for gays, he publicizes his thoughts on a personal website, complete with live webcam.

Resisting all the ensuing revolution, a gay student who had been completely out from the day he arrives at school was an anomaly for Richard Morelli, and that student has a website presents a temptation Rich had hitherto managed to avoid. [5]

Resisting the advent of technology and information overload, Richard Morelli, mentor and poetry teacher, on whom Darren has cultivated a crush, out of a fond curiosity, peruses the printouts of his favorite student’s webpages. He has determined through the clandestine reading that the boy is more vulnerable than he has acted. So puzzled is he himself by his attraction that he cannot help but continues to downplay it.

When Rich had begun to explain Darren to his partner, he’d gotten nowhere near what he meant. Erik did take Rich’s concern seriously but picked up none of the eroticism in it. [142]

Consolation is told in four parts of roughly equal length from the perspective of an omnipresent narrator. The sections are structured like movements in a symphony. The main, underlying theme is the choreography of the restrained love between Darren and Rich—a student and his father-figure professor. Their mutual feelings although kept at bay, jumpstart the novel, then recede to the aural background, making room for the assertion of artistic talents that illuminate the otherwise blase life of town. Poems, sound collages, welding auto parts, Shakespeare plays with computer graphics, and even imaginary island in an attic. Thrown into the melting pot are gay men, lesbian, alpha-male husband, open-minded mother, aspiring actresses, and real estate guru. What appears at first to be random digression only further reinforces the theme of subversion. In making arts, one subverts the own identity. It’s a privacy that is on show.

We’re continuously stuck with beauties, and something in our separate brains sifts them through and enigmatically attaches us to single instances, a person, a poem, a piece of music, a landscape. There must be deep reasons, private, unknown reasons. [219]

The novel is well-crafted and deals with the subtle, and often paradoxical subject matter of identity. Rich is in touch with elements in his identity unbeknownst to him until Darren walks into his life. In the same way, by exposing himself on the web, a new privacy, one that is from too much being out there for anyone to really cares its existence, emerges.

248 pp. Trade Paperback. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]

Consolation is shortlisted for Lambda Literary Award, Best Gay Fiction. Read more about his and his works at his website.

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2 Responses

  1. Not a book I would normally select to read. An interesting review though

  2. I was very gratified to be shown your comments on my novel Consolation! Thanks for your thoughtful and perceptive response. I’ll bet you’d enjoy my previous novel Drawn From Life, which traces the life of a gay artist from age two to his late fifties. It’s published by Quale Press. Thanks,
    Jonathan Strong

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