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Newspaper critic Ragland Hughes is openly gay. Opera tenor Cosimo Fratangelo is famously straight. No one gay or straight says a word as they watch the men's relationship evolve from ...
Newspaper critic Ragland Hughes is openly gay. Opera tenor Cosimo Fratangelo is famously straight. No one gay or straight says a word as they watch the men's relationship evolve from professional association to loving friendship-so long as both men remain alive and profitable.
When the body of one of the men washes ashore off Long Island Sound, convulsive testimony indicts the survivor as the prosecution's lone suspect. The media melee that ensues not only casts unwelcome light on the forces keeping a gay man and a straight man from enjoying friendship, it brands Hughes a predator of heterosexual men and Fratangelo a sociopath driven by ambition. As for the disparate voices having their say in the two men's lives, sexuality is to be defined and judged as something much more than genital union.
Part thwarted love story, part cautionary tale, part philosophical rant, VOICE OF FORCE sounds out the deep divide of sexual difference running through even the most liberal of enclaves. With Destiny seen as neither predestined path nor consequence of human choice but the balance of submission and resistance to the history bearing down on us, a simple criminal case is made a microcosm of ancient familial fear. We know a murder has been committed but in the end we're left deciphering what the larger crime is and how long it's been in the making.
Posted June 8, 2010
G. Roger Denson's new novel Voice of Force is touted to be about men, but there is a lot said in it about women too. Written as a dossier from the Manhattan Prosecution's office leaked to the public, the contents comprise the history of a controversial criminal case. Diary passages and transcripts of prison conversations indicate that a murder has led to the conviction of a man who maintains his innocence despite that, after three years on death row, he faces imminent execution. It seems the guilt of the accused is one that the witnesses, the prosecution, and the jury hold in consensus. All believe the crime is the culmination of a longstanding sexual predation despite that the evidence is largely circumstantial-based on a diary, a short story and an opera libretto written by the accused, and of course the testimony of so-called witnesses-all of which we read directly instead of reading about.
Despite all this postmodern artifice (which can sometimes be annoying and mundane), the story is as compelling for the rich characterizations as for what the characters betray about their own sexual misgivings and the misinformation the characters spread. For that matter, by the time you conclude that you're not reading a murder mystery but a about the prejudice that pronounces who is guilty-and refreshingly, not just the prejudice of one side (as so many novels settle on) but that of all parties, including the accused--you are absorbed by the quality of the writing and the deeply penetrating psychology of the characters.
This is a novel that travels the high road of thoughtful debate the whole way, showing all sides with remarkable clarity yet complexity. In many ways the novel seems to play off Camus's work as well as that of Dostoyevsky-with all the debate, ambiguity, and ambivalence that marks the best existentialist work. Yes, sexual difference-between straights and gays, men and women-is central, but the novel burrows deep beneath the specifics of gender, identity, and culture to a source of humanity that is raw nerve and need. The presiding question author Denson seems to be asking is, can anyone-with all his or her cravings-really ever get along with anyone else and their cravings?
Denson shows us that we are as consuming as we are consumed. And though we don't realize it until long after the character's sexuality has gripped us and perhaps aroused the prejudice that has been slumbering beneath our genteel lives, we learn that the drugs, ambition, greed, and most of all the fear that the various characters have hidden from view are ever more consuming than the sexual desire that stirs the sediments of prejudice up into a cultural tempest.
My only regret is that the author didn't abandon his convention of using other genres beside that of the memoir to get his message and philosophy across. Appropriation of everyday media formats is old hat and doesn't hold up nearly as well as the time-tesed format of the conventional novel. But Denson does manage to revitalize the allure of the world of opera, perhaps because he doesn't try all that hard to do so.
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Posted June 15, 2010
It's always a reward to come upon a novel with highly intelligent characters, something hard to find these days. It puts their flaws and mishaps into greater relief. And in this case their prejudice.
I never before realized to what extent things like family and profession set the die of our lives. Even the landscapes in this novel determine why people do things.
Two themes run throughout the novel, each pulling at the other. The first is the force of destiny. The second is the voice that force takes, or the people whose voices shape our lives. Maybe even the voice of God, if you believe in such a thing. Some of the characters in this story do, some don't. But unlike most novels, the belief or disbelief in God doesn't simply get named and then taken for granted. Everything here has a purpose for inclusion in the story. Everything is weighed out. Faith or disbelief gets raked through the character's lives in ways that they have to account for when facing the imminent death of a character later on. Some of it gets expressed as guilt, some as (self)righteousness. But all of what gets expressed has consequence in the world.
The same can be said of other motives: family and profession, especially. And of course money.
What I found most exhilarating is the way many of these motives get voiced unconsciously. We hear the characters say one thing about what they did or believe yet see an entirely different picture of it as they describe it. To see the delusion of a character at the same time the character sees it as a virtue or a necessity is the mark of a talented author. Even though the structure of the novel is more modern, I was made at times to think of George Elliot or Henry James. Or at least an author of that ilk in the making.
Not the smoothest of reads, for the abrupt changes in style and format (obviously intended to mark the different voices telling the story), but a rich and complicated telling even when some of the characters become shrill and desperate.
See my list 20 Great Contemporary Novels for Summer at: