Friday, June 21, 2013

Guilty by Sky Gilbert

Ok, if you are going to read this book I'm going to give you a whole bunch of trigger warnings. It's one thing if you don't want to read explicit sexual content, or kink (including scat); but what I found far more disturbing was the sexual violence and hostility to consent. Regardless of what you hear about the book, if you're triggered by those things even a little bit, please don't read it.

So there's that. I was really excited to read this one as the writer, Sky Gilbert, is a big name on the Toronto gay scene and was one of the co-founders of Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. This is his first novel and I have to say, it's pretty impressive. First novels tend to be overfull and rambling, and in that respect Gilbert shows remarkable restraint. He's also clearly a talented writer; the book was well constructed and I was never bored. I have become obsessed recently with the unreliable narrator, a literary trick Gilbert uses to great effect in Guilty. I honestly had no idea what was real (although I had a pretty good sense of what wasn't).

The story is first person from the perspective of the protagonist, Jack. I read in a review or the blurb or something that it was "stream of consciousness," but it isn't. It's quite coherent, like Jack is just sitting down and telling you a story. The story is that his lover, Cassidy, was murdered (possibly?) and Jack may or may not have done it, and he's not really sure. What makes it fascinating is the way it's told, and Jack's many tangents and asides that give a full and disturbing picture of what makes him tick.

I'm not sure what I'm supposed to get from the book. I think it's important that Jack likes to involve poop in his sex play, and even suggests that Cassidy was simply a representation of this desire, and it's that which he feels guilty about - as if he has conflated his guilt about being into scat into the murder of a person who may or may not actually exist. He is obsessed with the Montgomery Clift film A Place in the Sun, and is obviously drawn to Clift's character in the film, a man who thinks about killing his pregnant girlfriend and is then convicted of murder when she dies accidentally. There are also shades of L'etranger (although at the start of the book Jack explicitly states that he is not like Camus) - in fact, one might call this book L'etranger for the modern age. And honestly a bit of Psycho in there - Jack is always urging us in parentheses to stop blaming his mother.

Toronto, surprisingly, is not a big part of the scenery. I can't remember any places being name checked except Cawthra Park, although there must have been one or two others. It's probably for the best, as I'm not sure the tourism board would want people associating this book with our city.

I don't know if I liked the book or not. It's hard for me to dislike a well written, interesting novel, but I found it just so uncomfortable to read because of the hostility to consent (and later, admittedly, because of the graphic depiction of a guy eating another guy's shit) that I don't know if I could recommend it to another person. It's certainly a brave and different book, and art that makes us uncomfortable is probably the most important art. I am utterly on the fence, so I'm going to say three CN Towers out of five.

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