Tuesday, December 30, 2008

LA's deep, dark heart ... Jackal in the Dark

David Patrick Beavers is a writer I don't know much about beyond the standard bio (born in California in 1959 and so on). Jackal in the Dark was his debut novel, and he went on to do at least six others, one of which is a sequel to Jackal... which stands on its own plot-wise. (I was never able to get a copy of that one in the 1990s; you can get it now, but with the shipping and exchange rate it'd come out at about forty bucks, and ... well, another time.)

Jackal in the Dark came out in 1994, and you knew from the first few pages, this writer was on his way to great things. Or should have been...

I wish I could tell you more about this gifted novelist, but his in-print career seems to have hit the rocky shoals at the same at as Mel Keegan's -- and probably for the same reason. (Josh Lanyon was another casualty). What happened? Well, it's a long sad story!

GMP was bought out by Prowler, which was in turn bought out by Millivres ... and Millivres decided, around 2000, that they had no interest in continuing their paperback list, so authors like Keegan, Lanyon and Beavers found themselves in limbo. MK tells the story in a few places. (If you're interested to know what happened -- what landed at least three great writers in the realm of the POD People, have a look at this: http://mel-keegan.blogspot.com/2008/07/blue-genes-and-gay-publishing.html.)

All three writers are presently marketing their own work, and I think they're succeeding. At least, I hope all three are doing fine, because they're all way too good to be stuck in this rut. Mel Keegan is online here, Josh Lanyon is online here; and I can't find a page for David Patrick Beavers anywhere, so I'm going to let Amazon take care of it for me:

Using those links as a start, you should be able to find DPB at Amazon -- but one could wish he'd get himself a website or a blog!

Jackal... is a deceptive book, just as DPB is a deceptive writer. It's a quick read (only 129 readable pages), and just right for a wintry afternoon, or maybe an interstate bus trip. It also has a sort of "neon art" cover which won't get anybody upset on a bus or train! The covers on a lot of gay books would easily get other passengers irate, but this one is okay.

The subject matter is ticklish. It about 1978 or '79, and this 19-year-old boy is running wild. It's all discos and drugs and sex. Retrospectively speaking, it's a wonder he survived, because AIDS was just showing up at the time, though it wasn't called AIDS yet. I recall it being referred to as GRD, which stood for Gay Related Diseases. Talk about passing the buck.

Jackal... is told in the first person by our 19-y.o. "hero" who is off the rails, and it can be a bit of a "weird read" for sober souls! But it's also funny, and sometimes touching, and the characters ring so true that what's really weird is that you feel like you've been there! The book is set in LA, which everybody on earth knows from tv shows. You also know the era from the same shows. If it wasn't Starsky & Hutch, it was SWAT or something. We all watched them.

So, this is the era and the place: the stage is set. Our wild hero careens through a lifestyle that's dangerous, and runs into some characters that show you just how dangerous it could get. Like Taylor, who's a barely-of-age hustler who's getting badly beat-up by his pimp. It's only a matter of time before our hero starts to wake up to himself. One day he starts to want love instead of sex ... he wants to belong, instead of drifting through an ocean of druggy parties and anonymous encounters.

Well, too bad: you can't always have what you want. Life isn't like that, and Jackal... is an up-close, in-focus look at the way it too-usually turns out. Unrequited love, callowness, fear, vulnerability, self-destruction ... death.

Jackal... sneaks up on you. At the start you think it's going to be a romp, an absolute blast that you'll enjoy with guilt because you know how dangerous all this is. By the end, you'll wish you had a tissue handy.

The writing style is so sparse, it's virtually bald, which is something you're either going to like or not. For me, it worked well. If the book has a downside, it's the baldness of the narrative (some people don't care for it, I know) and also the shortness of the book. It's only about 50,000 words.

The length of the story also makes me say, be careful what you pay for a used copy. The Millivres edition has been out of print for a long, long time, but copies are changing hands at alibris for $45! You can get it in a new edition from Lulu.com, published POD -- and I hope this indicates that DPB is going to follow in the footsteps of MK and JL and take charge of his backlist. I think the reprint from Lulu.com costs about US$17 ... but you can also get the original at a good price from Amazon.

Also, if you don't mind reading on-screen, you can get the ebook version of Jackal... free! There's a link through from this page: http://online-novels.blogspot.com/2008/08/gay-and-lesbian-novels-1.html. Scroll down to Jackal... and click onwards.

Highly recommended. AG's rating: 4 out of 5 stars.


DPB April 19, 2009 at 1:39 PM  

A friend of mine emailed your blog page to me. Thank you for the review.

Being an Aquarian, technology should be a boon for me, but alas, from the early days of DOS based programs, I've become a techno-boob.