Before I Lose My Style
by Mike Kaspar
Spunky Books, 2008
Contemporary gay fiction can be so much of a type that readers searching for quality are naturally skittish. A half-naked male body on the cover? The elevation of senseless bed-hopping into a lifestyle? The Devil Wears Product Placement gone amok? The slightest thing can send us fleeing back to Edmund White.
Mike Kaspar’s debut novel Before I Lose My Style at first glance looks like just such a triple threat. Can even the strongest narrative, one asks, withstand tweaked out passages like this:
"I think about the guys that Prada has been using in its magazine advertisements over the last few months, who are just so hot. I want to crawl over to the coffee table and get a GQ so I can find one of the ads and just look at it for a while. The models are vaguely central European: heavy eyebrows, full lips, none of those delicate WASP noses."
But readers need not fear, because it turns out that in the construction of Before I Lose My Style, Mike Kaspar knows exactly what he’s doing. His main character, wry, detached Damon, is in emotional free-fall after the departure of his long-term boyfriend and has surrendered himself to a series of meaningless flings with anonymous young men found online; Damon’s point of view guides the novel, and his personality is so strong, so pre-emptive, that his friends don’t know how to convince him he’s in pain, let alone help him. The book’s tone is smart and fast-paced, taking readers from LA to Budapest as Damon eventually finds his way back to love. Along the way, Kaspar displays a great ear for dialogue, a deft knack for one-liners, and, in a stylistic highlight, a winning willingness to risk a little fantasy here and there:
"My last day in Budapest I was intending to take a bus out to this park with Soviet-era statues rounded up from all over the city. Quite an ingenious way to deal with the horrible past: put it on display and charge admission. Instead, I go back to Hosok Square. Seven bronze men on horseback, representing the seven original tribes that founded Hungary, stand on the central plinth. I stand before this one tribal chieftain, Huba, who is so tough that even his horse wears a fearsome headdress made of elk antlers.
“Huba,” I say, “did you ever have trouble with relationships?”
“Honestly,” he responds, “we marauding hordes were more into picking up concubines in the lands we conquered. I can’t say we really dated.”
“I’m more into the guys,” I say. “But that does sound hot.”
“I guess I was just more focused on my professional life,” he says. “I wasn’t much of a family man.”
Mike Kaspar is an author to watch. And if Before I Lose My Style has a half-naked male body on its cover, well, we’ll just have to find a way to live with that.
Steve Donoghue was a founding editor of Open Letters Monthly. His book criticism has appeared in the Boston Globe, the Wall Street Journal, and the American Conservative. He writes regularly for the National, the Washington Post, the Vineyard Gazette, and the Christian Science Monitor. His website is http://www.stevedonoghue.com.