Michael BOOK review [Henry Flesh]

Book Reviews
Michael BOOK review [Henry Flesh]
Oct 1, 2000, 04:22

MICHAEL by Henry Flesh; Akashic Books, 2000

I've not read overmuch gay lit., esp. not of late: back in the day, a couple sci fi thingies—Unicorn Mountain, Left Hand of Darkness—and various essays and mag articles by a longtime friend from H.S., now sadly deceased. So to me 'tis a mighty shock to encounter a work revolving around a pointedly gay recasting of spirituality, and a pleasant shock at that.

In Henry Flesh's short novel Michael, the protagonist Stephen, a middle-aged gay man, finds himself with what—I'd guess—are unfortunately typical regrets. His life partner's been taken by AIDs; he's been estranged from his parents over numerous issues including his sexual orientation, and is confronted with the physical facts of his own aging. And it's the end of the world…really. The Apocalypse, just like in da Bible with “portents” and nuclear wars, prophets of doom, archangels, and everything, the living face damnation 'r salvation. The usual.

Except that in Flesh's world, sexual orientation and sexual activity ain't big issues to the Almighty. In fact redemption is effected through sexual contact, including of the mano a mano variety. These are shocking, heretical notions in the context of orthodox Judeo-Xtianity morality, though not unprecedented in other religious traditions, mainly the more mystical components: Hinduism's Tantra, Islam's Druse sect, Xtianity's Templarism (or so the rumors go), not to mention those nasty Gnostic sects.

In the course of the book Flesh bares and unravels the past events that led to Stephen's self-dissatisfaction and depression. Meanwhile, his orchestration of mood is effective and expert. He starts with a vague melancholy, builds a crescendo of hysteria to an eruption of blissful ecstasy. While at times the writing's a little awkward and banal, the basic premises are startling enough to make for an engrossing, if abbreviated, read (book's less than 100pp.

-Howard W.

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