Book Review

A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson

Publisher: Tor.com
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 160
Format: Paperback
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My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Summary

In this queer fantasy romance, Aqib bgm Sadiqi, son of a lesser noble in the court of Olorum, falls hard for Lucrio, a Daluçan soldier in the city as part of a trade delegation. Their love burns quick and bright, both knowing that each moment together is precious. All too soon the treaty will be signed, and Lucrio will be called back home. But they must also be careful, for the religion of Aqib’s forefathers does not approve of their union.

While kings and gods negotiate the future of their nations, Aqib and Lucrio negotiate their own futures in a treaty no less monumental for all that it defines—not relations between kingdoms and empires, but only between their two hearts.

Thoughts

The wonderful thing about short books is that you can read them in one sitting, and ever since Tor.com decided to start publishing novellas (one of the most underappreciated literary forms, in my humble opinion) I’ve been on the hype train.

A Taste of Honey is Wilson’s second novella from the imprint, set in the same world as his debut The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps. Tonally, however, the two books could not be more different. Sorcerer was a tour de force of experimental fantasy: a traditional sword-and-sorcery story with a non-linear narrative structure, and a masterful use of layered, naturalistic dialect. Imagine my surprise upon picking A Taste of Honey to discover an aching summer romance, full of queer longing and forbidden love.

Honey is in many ways a more casually approachable work than Sorcerer. This was a purposeful decision on the part of Wilson, who wrote in his essay “A POC Guide to Writing Dialect in Fiction” that “Many people won’t read even gorgeously written dialect—cannot, in the first place, perceive the beauty in it.” Therefore he toned-down the dialect in his second work, though he notes that Honey is still “deeply although subtly spiced with it.” His experiments with form, on the other hand, have been—if anything—heightened. The warp and weft of interwoven past and present give the book an almost dreamlike quality, imbedding the reader into a diachronic character study of Aqib bmg Sadiqi.

Aqib’s personal turmoil takes center stage in Honey. I’m not ashamed to say this book made me cry as Aqib’s thorny relationship with his family tore its way through my heart. (Don’t worry though, Ashante knows better than to violate romance’s sacred trust of the happily ever after).

And Lucrio—sweet Lucrio—is just about the best Prince Charming I’ve ever encountered in print. If you fall hopelessly in love with storybook characters (as I do), be prepared to go head over heels for this strong and gentle Daluçan soldier.

I recommend this book whole-heartedly. You would be hard pressed to find a more intimate portrait of tragedy, romance, and longing in a smaller package than A Taste of Honey. Come spend a chilly winter evening warmed by love and the light of the Olorum summer sun.

Book Review

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

Publisher: Mariner Books
Genre: Graphic Novel, Memoir
Pages: 233 pages
Format: Paperback
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My Rating: 4/5

Summary

Alison Bechdel brings her troubled journey into adulthood to life in this groundbreaking graphic memoir. She chronicles a tumultuous relationship with her father while using lighthearted graphics, heavy literary allusion, and tough personal topics which redefine what we might come to expect from the “comic book” or “graphic novel” genre. Alison recalls moments from her childhood that may have led to the discovery of her father’s closeted homosexuality and his eventual suspected suicide, all while simultaneously discovering her own identity as a lesbian. Bechdel never quite comes to terms with her father’s actions or the truth behind his death, but it becomes a poignant story about making peace with the man that he was and the part he played in who she became.

Thoughts

Fun Home is a graphic novel that tackles some heavy concepts in an unconventional medium. The coined term “tragicomic” aptly describes the feelings of isolation Bechdel struggles with while growing up with her distant and private father, who is a staunch perfectionist with a quick temper. Her father’s fate is quickly revealed, and his supposed suicide sets the tone for the rest of her story. Despite the somber faces drawn on her cartoonish characters, there is the distinct undertone of a child who sorely wants to just be a normal child—and to be loved and noticed by her parents.

Fun Home is also able to effectively describe the struggle of a child trying to make sense of their identity when everyone around them is giving them contradicting signals. Its an important coming-of-age story for LBGTQ+ youth, as we see the signals in Bechdel’s childhood that she only took notice of in her adult years. However, this definitely isn’t a children’s graphic novel. There are mild but definite depictions of sex and masturbation as well as the unfortunate story of her father’s cavorting with his English students that present some rather mature discussions. The novel in all aspects is meant to make you think and reconsider the fear of recognizing your own identity and facing the judgement of your peers. There is a complex understanding between Bechdel and her father that translates to the reader as we try to decide if we feel sorry for her father having been born in a time he felt he had to hide his sexuality, or if we feel the same sympathy for her mother after dealing with years of infidelity and covering up her husband’s affairs with young men. We are also presented with the aftermath of Bechdel’s coming out, where she is rejected by her mother but is able to develop a novel relationship with her father in his last few weeks of life. If anything, these conflicts and tough emotions make for a profoundly honest story, because real people aren’t always easy to understand.

Her father’s career as an English teacher and his passion for literature passed down to Bechdel herself adds another layer of depth to Fun Home. Books play a huge role in how Alison comes to embrace her sexuality, and later a way for her to connect with her father who has always struggled with honest communication. Bechdel’s father hides behind his books, and uses them as a way to communicate his truth without coming out with it. He presents Bechdel with a copy of Ulysses by James Joyce, and the novel not only becomes an important part of her coming out as a lesbian, but serves as another point of comparison for the complicated relationship she shares with her father. Indeed, throughout the book Bechdel references James Joyce works to illustrate her story, creating a layered story that might be somewhat exaggerated as a memoir, but becomes a novel that takes Bechdel’s life and makes it relevant to so many readers in an important way.

The end of the novel makes it very clear that there are no cut-and-paste methods to make peace with the loss of a parent, especially to set back years of complicated emotion and pain. Bechdel was only able to connect to her father in the months before his death, and this was not nearly enough time to come to terms with her childhood and the actions that he took while he hid who he really was from the world and let that action tear him apart inside. As you finish the book, you as a reader can feel the unfinished resolution that comes from death. Alison Bechdel’s story as an individual is unfinished, as evidenced by her continued and successful career as a writer and a champion of LGBTQ+ representation, but the enlightenment she gains from her memoir resonates with any person that is struggling or has struggled to find themselves.