Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Conquering Venus

Read 4/10/10 - 4/14/10
3 Stars - Recommended to reader familiar with genre

Have you ever read a couple of books, one after the other, only to find that they are unintentionally linked to one another through subject matter and theme? Perhaps a character from your previous read has a similar affliction to the one you are reading about now. Or the characters visit the same locations. Maybe they have similar backgrounds and histories?

I love "book serendipity", and how utterly random and jarring it can be. And that is exactly what occurred while I was reading Collin Kelley's "Conquering Venus".

Prior to reading his novel, I had just completed Jeannette Katzir's "Broken Birds" (A story of Holocaust survivors and their family struggles), and a few before that - I was reading D.R. Haney's "Banned for Life" (A story that contained a character who suffers from Agoraphobia).

Not far into "Conquering Venus", we are introduced to Diane - an American teacher whose parents were Holocaust survivors. Though she is not very religious, we are reminded of her Jewish background and of the impact Nazi Germany had on her family life. Of course, this is not the main theme of the novel, but just one of those strange little coincidences that I enjoy stumbling across.

When we are introduced to Irene, we learn that she is suffering from the crippling, imprisoning fear of the outdoors - Agoraphobia. This is an important character flaw, as a significant portion of the novel hinges on Irene and her inability to leave her apartment. She mirrors a character by the name of Jim from "Banned For Life", who is also unable to leave his home due to the same fear.

While this has nothing to do with the review of Kelley's novel, I had to point out the sheer coincidence of reading books nearly back to back that were sent to me by the authors for review - and which were read in the order they arrived on my doorstep - and just how serendipitous it was.

"Conquering Venus" is an ambitious first novel that is quoted to be "grounded in reality...a mystery, a love story, and a journey of self-realization". It centers around Martin, a young American gay man, who is haunted by his ex-lover's suicide. It also centers on Irene, a much older Parisian woman afflicted with a debilitating fear of the outdoors, who is unable to move beyond the death of her husband. Both suffer from highly disturbing, foreboding, foreshadowing dreams of their lost loves, and - strangely - of each other.

Martin's best friend Diane is chaperoning a group of graduating teens on a trip to Paris, and she invites Martin along - hoping it will help him move past Peter's suicide. While in Paris, as Martin pines over David, one of Diane's students, Martin meets Irene, and they feel an immediate and startling connection.

Initially unknown to them all, Martin, Diane, and Irene share eerily similar pasts.

They are the keys that unlock each others secrets. Forced to face their pasts in order to truly live in the present, they extinguish their inner demons together, and aid the healing of old wounds.

Collin Kelley tackles heavy topics - what it is like to deal with the pressures and perceptions of being a gay man in today society, how we as humans deal with death, and the idea of having a soul mate or "familiar" from another life. Kelley uses dreams to capture just how deeply scarred his characters are, helping the reader to see into their past and to peek into their future.

Overall, an intense look at a world of which I was not overly familiar with. While I don't have much experience with Gay Lit, I do have a TON of experience with reading in general, and Kelley can certainly hold his own with the best of them.

Collin has quite a few collections of poetry, of which I am most definitely going to get my hands on, and is also the recipient of the 1994 Deep South Festival of Writer's Award for Best Play "Dark Horse". I have heard it mentioned that Collin is working on a sequel to "Conquering Venus". I would be very interested to see where he takes Martin and Irene next.

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