Auhor: Laura Lee
Publisher: Itineris Press
Release Date: September 27, 2011
Pages: 202 (200 on GR)
Rating: 5 of 5 stars
WARNING: May contain spoilers. Also deals with male and male relationships, if you are underage or truly and irrevocably uncomfortable with that then don't read it.
I dived into this novel expecting, and sort of knowing deep inside, that it would not have a happily-ever-after. However, I often have that mindset when going into any book that deals with MxM relationships. Now I can’t say I’ve read many of these types of novels, in fact I think this is my first, but I have read countless fanfics and mangas about it. One thing I find in common with a lot of them is the amount of angst and tragedy in the story, especially toward the ending. Of course, there are those few exceptions that have a happily-ever-after and, for that, I am glad. It keeps me sane in some ways. It shows the many endings and beginnings of a life.
It intrigued me how the author would deal with this sensitive topic of religion and orientation. I was sure it would be melancholy, a “parable” as one other reviewer had mentioned. But I also had some inkling of expectation, a slight hope, that there was something happy about it as well and that the message is not as loud as some people say. Therefore, going into the book, I was eager.
However, before we get into that, a little summary of Angel. What’s it all about?
Paul is a forty-something-year-old minister. He does his job day-to-day, unawares and sometimes unconcerned for the community that surrounded him. He does things as a routine, bored and lifeless. However, that is not because he hates being a minister, in fact, he loves it. He refers to it as his “calling.” The reason is far from hatred, it began with his wife’s death. Because ever since his wife, Sara, died of cancer six years ago, he is unable to find inspiration in life. There is no spark, no liveliness. All of that faded away with Sara’s death. He pleads in front of her grave one day for God to send him some sort of stimulus, a motivation to make life worth paying attention to, and to bring him back down to earth and away from the clouds.
What he does not expect is that God would send his muse in the shape of a man, a young, twenty-four-year-old man who turns his completely stable life upside down. This man, Ian, is bold and unafraid, blunt and unknowingly provocative. He is beautiful and wily. And, he makes Paul question everything he has ever believed.
This is not a Romance (with a capital ‘R’). It is not HEA or HFN. It does not give you the satisfaction of being happy because you know how it will all play out. No, in fact it does the opposite. You dread that you know what will happen, that there’s a big shadow ready to swallow up the characters at any moment. You know this the instant you finish reading the prologue and Paul tells you that he “used” to be a minister. Either that, or you think that maybe, just maybe, he quit being a minister because he wanted to be with the person the blurb was talking about…maybe he sacrificed his “calling” to be with the person he truly loved. And maybe that can carry you on to read the rest of the book.
Unfortunately, that’s not how it is. Paul and Ian go through the motions that any relationship goes through, whether romantic or not. They are happy, sad, pissed off, every colour on the spectrum of emotion. It is made harder by the fact that they are both male and live in a predominantly Christian community. What are they supposed to do? What is their inevitable outcome?
There rises a great many questions in the book, many of which we ask ourselves every day. It deals with insecurities everyone in a relationship has, not just males. It asks us to look deep inside and question what we believe, just as Paul did. Question things we’ve done wrong, things we’ve blindly believed because we were told so by someone older, “wiser.” The novel forces us to face someone who knows what he wants, knows what will make him happy, but is unable to push away the uncertainty and fear that comes with being in a relationship that is frowned upon by some in society. It puts into perspective things some of us have always thought and demands us to “prove it,” to show why it is considered “truth.”
I can see the message, but it is not loud to me. In fact, the author did not intend for a message at all. If she did start out the way, then it has developed into something else. Her characters have driven to a different place. For me, the message takes a backseat to what makes Paul and Ian’s relationship so beautiful, so sweet, and at the same time so frustrating. It is their idiosyncrasies, their past (however trite), and their shortcomings. They are not perfect…they are tangible and authentic.
I don’t really know how to describe what it was like reading this book. There was just a lot of frustration but also a particular giddiness. Lee writes with a sense of humour (like with her line “As ridiculous as all that sexual groping and pumping and flopping around might seem, it is the closest thing to divine union we have on this earth”), but also with a deep and profound knowing, a questioning and reflection. It is beautiful and somewhat poetic, filled with symbols and metaphors. I loved the reading experience, the sheer believability of the characters, the people’s flaws, everything. This book was a page-turner. There were some mistakes here and there, but I can ignore them because of how much I fell in love with the characters and this story. Call me a sucker, I don’t care, I love bittersweet endings. I cried for Pete’s sake!
There are so many quotable things in this novel that I would love to list down, words and phrases, whole passages and sentences, but right now it will only make this review longer than it has to be. So I’ll leave you with the last few sentences in the novel, something so true and so simple, “Maybe everyone should live in the shadow of a volcano. Maybe everyone does. What a shame it would be to stay away because you were afraid it would end. What a shame it would be to miss so much beauty.”