I read a lot. Much of what I read are LGBT novels. Some of it is downright dreadful, but since I’m selective I tend enjoy most of what I choose, but every now and then I stumble across something that’s just so special that I’m compelled to share.
The last time I was this excited about something was Ginn Hales’s Wicked Gentlemen. My latest love object is entirely different, but no less enchanting. Behind the cut is my review of Mike Kaspar’s debut novel, Before I Lose My Style. If you’re looking for something funny, warm and well written, with a host of fascinating characters, you should definitely check this one out:
Mike Kaspar’s Before I Lose My Style is surely the most unique and exuberant of the current crop of contemporary gay fiction available. In brief, it tells the story of a thirty-something scientist living the life of a swinging single in L.A. after having been unceremoniously dumped by his long-time lover.
I could tell from the very first page that this was going to something special when Damon, the protagonist and narrator, blissfully describes hearing songs by Yo La Tengo and Jonathan Richman on a pirate radio station. This, I recognized at once, was going to be a far cry from those novels (gay or straight) written by very narrow-minded and/or sheltered authors who seem to be out of touch with all but the most mainstream in popular culture.
But Kaspar’s delightful character study has much more to offer than merely obscure underground references and indie cred. This is a story that is told as often through dialogue as it is by the narrator’s pithy observations…and what dialogue it is! Each character has his/her own authentic voice, so much so that I often felt as if I was eavesdropping on real people. And these aren’t the same people one has met in hundreds of other guises in dozens of other novels. Each one is completely individual - with all the contradictions and inconsistencies found in flesh and blood human beings, which makes their conversations all the more intelligent, sassy and, best of all, interesting.
I can almost guarantee that in no other modern novel will you find two pages of informed discourse on Hungarian history cross-pollinated with several paragraphs dissecting the bisexuality hinted at in Stephen Malkmus’s lyrics for his 1990’s indie rock band, Pavement. This is a smart novel and the author never condescends to his readers, assuming they’ll be able to keep up. Kaspar’s writing is at once warm, witty and, oftentimes, hilariously over-the-top funny. I defy you not to laugh out loud at some point during the two page stream of consciousness psycho-babble of “Hair-Guy,” (one of Damon’s hot, but dizzy, young dates) or the heated e-mail exchange that, without giving anything away, gives birth to an insult so outlandish it prompts one of the characters to suggest they adopt it as their “new catchphrase.” I’m seriously tempted to adopt it as mine.
While stealthily avoiding all the gay character clichés that seem to abound in most modern gay fiction, to his credit the author also sidesteps another tired stereotype – that of Los Angeles as a shallow, artistic dead zone. The L.A. of Before I Lose My Style provides an inspiring desert backdrop to the myriad opportunities for both artistic expression and appreciation. Kaspar’s obvious love for L.A. is reminiscent of Woody Allen’s feelings for New York. And what a welcome change. The architecture, museums, exhibits, botanical gardens, even the cheap ethnic eats enjoyed by the characters paint a picture of a vibrant, diverse city that no other gay novel has come close to depicting. And it was the first ever fiction book of any kind that actually made me interested in visiting SoCal.
Ultimately, Damon’s journey is not particularly complicated or unusual. What makes the book so compelling is the writing style and the characters themselves. And as romantic comedies go, this one seems to break nearly all the rules while still managing to be deeply satisfying. Kasper is like a skilled magician, distracting the reader’s attention to such a degree that the story’s outcome is as unexpected as it is completely right. This one’s a keeper. Can’t wait for the film.
ETA: link to publisher's website here: http://spunkybooks.com/