Book of Lies: A Novel

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Overview

Bright, ambitious, and handsome, Ross Ohrenstedt is a high flier in the fashionable field of queer studies. He has just taken a prestigious university position in Los Angeles and has been appointed to oversee the collection of papers and works of a leading light of the gay literary salon known as the Purple Circle. Ross stumbles across a "lost" work by an unknown author and his quest to identify the mystery writer and achieve the glory of scholastic tenure unveils increasingly bizarre and unbalanced facts about a...

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Overview

Bright, ambitious, and handsome, Ross Ohrenstedt is a high flier in the fashionable field of queer studies. He has just taken a prestigious university position in Los Angeles and has been appointed to oversee the collection of papers and works of a leading light of the gay literary salon known as the Purple Circle. Ross stumbles across a "lost" work by an unknown author and his quest to identify the mystery writer and achieve the glory of scholastic tenure unveils increasingly bizarre and unbalanced facts about a group of writers who in the 1970s and 1980s broke new ground in the creation of a gay literary sensibility. But the dark truth contained within The Book of Lies is even more startling. With biting wit and a lush sense of place and character, Felice Picano's daring novel is at once a stylish mystery, a comical roman à clef, and a wicked send-up of the new Ivory Tower.

"Leave it to Felice Picano to add a walloping dose of melodrama and intrigue to a tale already redrawing genre boundaries...What Picano does is take an academic mystery (subject matter that might have proved tedious or solipsistic in lesser hands) and morphs it into something new—a page-turning, often campy, occasionally serious critique of academia and historical truth, literary celebrity, and the imminent future of America."-Philadelphia Tribune

Felice Picano is the author of 19 books including the best-selling novels Like People In History, Looking Glass Lives, The Lure and Eyes as well as the literary memoirs Ambidextrous, Men Who Loved Me, and A House On the Ocean, A House On the Bay. He is also the author with Dr. CharlesSilverstein of The New Joy of Gay Sex. A native of New York, Felice Picano now lives in Los Angeles.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Things are not what they seem in Picano's (Like People in History) novel of academic intrigue. In the early 21st century, Ross Ohrenstedt is an ambitious assistant professor at UCLA, researching the work of the legendary literary salon the Purple Circle (closely resembling the Violet Quill, a group Picano was involved in that included Edmund White, among others) for his doctoral thesis. While cataloguing the work of a Circle member, Ohrenstedt uncovers a mysterious manuscript that promises to be an academic breakthrough, and begins an increasingly obsessive quest to validate its source. New uncredited documents appear, and Ohrenstedt begins piecing together the life of their suspected author, the previously unrecognized Len Spurgeon--an enigmatic character with seemingly far-reaching influence over the Purple Circle members and their work. Self-consciously evoking Henry James, this tragicomedy of polite society is impressive in its thoroughly imagined detail, although sometimes gratuitous in its lavish descriptions of settings. With individual chapters focusing on various Purple Circle members, Picano is successful in his gossipy recreation of the group of gay literary innovators. In depicting the near future, his amusing assumptions demonstrate a keen tab on trends and the possible new technologies ahead. The surprises at the end keep the reader's head spinning. (Nov.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Ross Ohrenstedt, a young college professor working on his doctorate, is spending part of a summer cataloging the papers of Damon von Slyke, one of the surviving members of the Purple Circle (loosely based on Picano's own Violet Quill Club, a group of gay authors of the 1970s and 1980s). While working, Ross discovers something of a literary mystery, the fragment of a story that doesn't fit the writing style or subject matter of any of the Purple Circle members. The narrative follows Ross's meetings with surviving members or literary executors in a search for additional fragments and the identity of the unknown author. As each member is introduced, Picano offers lengthy descriptions of that author's work that slow down the plot, and the ending has a bizarre twist that many readers will find distracting. Those faults aside, Picano (Looking Glass Lives) does present a rather interesting story, with his typically well-constructed characters and settings. Recommend where Picano has a following.--Theodore R. Salvadori, Margaret E. Heggan Free P.L., Hurffville, NJ Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Deborah Peifer
The real difficulty in reviewing an extraordianry novel is finding the words that are worthy of the subject. For The Book of Lies, that difficulty is multiplied tenfold. Felice Picano, one of our best writers, has outdone his previous riches with a novel that is smart and sexy, funny and historically compelling.

Ross Ohrenstedt is an impossibly hunky graduate student trying to write a doctoral dissertation about the lives and writings of a fabulous collection of gay writers, the Purple Circle. The time is the not too distant future, "four decades after Stonewall," and the Purples have become important enough in pedagogical circles that there is academic gold to be mined in their every written word. Ross has been offered a chance to collect the papers of one of the Purples, Damon Von Slyke, to live in his house, to teach at UCLA, and to achieve greatness. In the course of the novel....well, I can't tell you what happens, because among other things, The Book of Lies is a first-rate suspense novel.

It's much more, of course, as Picano dazzles with his skill at creating a different writing style, speaking style, and critical style not only for the nine members of the Purple Circle, but also for all of the critics, scholars, and students who people this extraordinarily rich narrative. Picano was one of the founders of the legendary Violet Quill; other members include Edmund White and Andrew Holleran. Part of the fun of this novel is guessing who matches whom, although I must confess that Picano does a fine job of mixing up his creations that every time I was certain I knew which Purple was which Quill, he threw me a curve and I started all over again.

Don't think that The book of Lies is a dry academic exercise, or you'll miss the best and most entertaining book of 1999.
Bay Area Reporter
Robert L. Pela
Part mystery, part send-up, Picano's latest is a sharp-witted, sharper-tongued parody of the ivory tower and the pretenses of the pedagogues within...The Book of Lies is always smart and often amusing.
The Advocate
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781555835415
  • Publisher: Alyson Publications
  • Publication date: 9/28/2000
  • Edition description: 1ST ALYSON
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 423
  • Product dimensions: 6.37 (w) x 9.29 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Bright, ambitious, and handsome, Ross Ohrenstedt is a high flier in the fashionable field of queer studies, flourishing amid the backstabbing and petty intrigues of academia. He has just taken a prestigious university position in Los Angeles and has been appointed to oversee the collection of papers and works of Damon Von Slyke, prominent man of letters and leading light of the gay literary salon known as the Purple Circle. Sorting through the papers, Ross stumbles across a "lost" work by an unknown author.

His quest to identify the mystery writer and achieve the glory of scholastic tenure unveils the lives and wild times of a group of writers who in the 1970s and 1980s broke new ground in the creation of a gay literary sensibility. As his search uncovers increasingly bizarre and unbalanced facts about the Purple Circle members, Ross finds himself the target of menacing attempts to derail his investigation. But the dark truth contained within The Book of Lies is even more startling. With biting wit and a lush sense of place and character, Felice Picano's daring novel is at once a stylish mystery, a comical roman à clef, and a wicked send-up of the new Ivory Tower.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

Prologue 1
Book 1 The Von Slyke Papers 5
Book 2 The Widow Weber 75
Book 3 The Dodge Brothers Inc. 111
Book 4 The Leo-McKewens at Tea, Part 1 143
Book 5 The Short, Happy Posthumous Life of Cameron Powers, III, Esq. 173
Book 6 The Secret of Rowland Etheridge 221
Book 7 The Leo-McKewens at Tea, Part 2 275
Book 8 In the Fibber McGee Room 317
Book 9 Ravens at Truro 349
Book 10 From the Paradise Garden 387
Epilogue 412
Bibliography and Appendices 420
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 2 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 28, 2003

    The Truth In Lies

    I just finished THE BOOK OF LIES, and I've got to say, it is quite possibly the most intelligent novel I have ever read. I was absolutely blown away by this book. It is so unique compared to other works of gay fiction that I have read. The book concerns a young man working on his doctoral thesis about a group of writers known as the Purple Circle. I imagine that Picano's own involvement with the legendary Violet Quill Club provided some inspiration. I do not want to say too much, as this book is an incredible, thought provoking literary mystery, one that can truly only be solved by each reader. The time frame (by what I could figure out in the writing) seems to be 2006 or there abouts, thus providing some distance between the narrator's reality and ours the reader's. Anyway, I highly recommend it. This book clearly proves that Picano's is the preiminate voice in gay literature today!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 6, 2001

    Hardly worth the bother

    After reading Like People in History and loving it I decided to take a shot at this book. Full of minutia and rambling plot devices, it takes some effort to complete. When the payoff does come, (and yes, it has its 'shock' value) you're exhausted by the effort of getting there, and have no patience for the ending. Read something else.

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