‘Spreadeagle’ by Kevin Killian
Author: John Bavoso
March 15, 2013
The acknowledgements section of Kevin Killian’s new novel, Spreadeagle, notes that much of the book’s content began its life as a series of short stories appearing in a variety of publications. For the first half of the book, this is abundantly clear—while the author effectively introduces and skewers a wide array of gay characters who are at once familiar and totally unlikeable, the initial bulk of the story feels disjointed, making it difficult to follow the plot, and hard to initially become invested in the fate of the protagonists.
If you’re able to make it through to Part II, however, you’ll be rewarded with an engrossing and compelling examination of a small-town gay man’s descent into obsession, addiction, and crime that comes close to making you forget about the fractured nature of the preceding chapters.
That first section introduces a bevy of characters that were probably based on real people before being enrobed in satirical stereotypes. Set in San Francisco, we first meet Kit, the superficial AIDS activist and “humanitarian” who treats people like garbage, unless, of course, he hopes to get in their pants. He is supported financially by his boyfriend, novelist Danny Isham, who, during his first appearance in the book, is in the midst of installing an expensive sandbox on their roof and explains, “I know things are rough for those poor men in Cuba, and their women too, but I’m me and I have to think about giving myself a space in which to, you know, be the artist I know I can be.” First world problems, meet your first couple.
Existing in the periphery are Eric Avery, a young and impressionable art student/stripper/spanking porn actor who moves into their house so Kit can have sex with him whenever he wants, and Sam D’Allesandro, Kit’s ex and a writer of some talent who is now succumbing to AIDS. Oh, and the specter of Danny’s dead, gay father, a successful literary writer, who is pretty much never mentioned in the second half of the novel.
Some of the over-the-top parody presented in the first half of the book is entertaining— especially those moments set in the room of the house that was meant for the African American child that Kit and Danny never got to adopt, which is hooked up to a system that plays a constant stream of Tracy Chapman songs and inspirational quotes by black female authors. However, nearly 300 pages of constantly shifting perspectives, wild (but humorous) tangents, and pop culture references make it slightly overwhelming for the reader. But said reader is rewarded for his or her patience when the second half rolls around. Titled “Silver Springs,” this section is written solely from the perspective of Geoff Crane, one of only two gay men in his tiny Central Valley town. As he falls in love with a charming yet sadistic con man, you see his grip on reality, sobriety, and morality becoming more and more tenuous. Suddenly, the disjointed nature of the narrative becomes clear, and because it’s coming from only one character, begins to envelop you until it seems almost normal. Ultimately, Killian is to be commended for his creation of such a spectacular spectrum of gay characters; it just so happens that, as in life, some gay characters turn out to be more interesting and complex than others. This is what makes Spreadeagle a book worth reading.
By Kevin Killian
Paperback, 9781935662099, 590 pp.