- Book Title: The Painting of Porcupine City
- Author: Ben Monopoli
- Publisher: Ben Monopoli; 1 edition (August 29, 2011)
- Book Length: 390 pages
- Genre: Gay, Literary Fiction
- Reviewed by: Diane
- Posting Date: April 2, 2015
Fletcher Bradford lives life in the middle lane, single-gearing it enough to keep an eye out for promising traffic, yet primed to get locked and loaded when fresh meat catches his interest… which it does, regularly. He’s a sampler, a dabbler, a purveyor of flesh and disappointed expectations.
He’s a man strangely content at the tender age of twenty-six, sitting on the ragged edge of too much experience and not enough positive outcomes. He’s also a man of letters, a published writer with a tale of betrayal under his belt—one that riffs on the sorry state of relationships tainted with bitterness and failure. But he’s far from being a lonely hack in a garret.
Fletcher is a hunter-stalker, a man with a back-up plan and a rolodex of willing call-me-anytimers to see to his needs. He’s the supreme make-doer with little reason to think outside a box of his own design—until Mateo Amaral, the new hire at work, tweaks his interest. Mateo isn’t ordinary, he doesn’t fit the mold, he intrigues. Mostly because he might be unattainable, a straight guy throwing off gay vibes and exuding a bit of mystery.
Mateo isn’t an easy read and—aside from color-coordinating his hand with the day of the week—he’s very good at avoidance and innuendo. Mateo is a challenge Fletcher can’t avoid, nor does he want to.
What Fletcher and Mateo are is sympatico spirits, one the articulator of truths underpinning the lies of fiction, and the other an expressionist whose truths are transitory and borne of a culture of protest and tagging social commentary. Both men seem simplistic on the surface. It seems easy, at first, to be lured into their sense of complacency, enjoying the ride and the exploration of first contact. There’s humor and wry commentary, even a little spark of naughty danger to get the blood pumping. Yet underneath boils a seething morass of complex motivations, wishes, desires, disappointments and failures that become the signature hurdles each man must overcome.
This extraordinary work of literary fiction shines with brilliant color, with startling insights into the minds of men consumed by a vision, by perceptions of their world they accept as Fact, yet underneath lies another layer, and yet another, until what we think we know and understand is nothing but smoke and mirrors. And when it goes pear-shaped you are as surprised as they are, but only for a moment because the inevitability of one who cannot change and one who chooses to remain the same will rip apart all they know.
The supporting characters—Alex, Jamar, Cara and a host of others—are diverse and beautifully drawn. The writing is elegant, intelligent and boldly inventive. The scope, the depth and breadth of the journey is universal in appeal and intimate in execution. There are heartwarming, generous, and life-affirming moments that are as tenuous, as organic and fluid as the art Mateo paints in the dark of night. There is tragedy—a horrid, gut-wrenching emptiness when want and need clash with the unattainable.
Fate, the quest and the messages, all align toward conquering the final sweet spot and the recognition of the self as worthy and memorable. Mateo accepts the transitory consequences of his addiction, yet in the end, like everyone, he yearns for recognition. The Brazilian artist, consumed by his vision, is the perfect foil for Fletcher who grows, changes and mourns the fickleness of fate.
There is so much to be discovered in The Painting of Porcupine City that this reader will be content to read and reread at her leisure. Ben Monopoli has a firm command of his craft, a unique voice, and a sharp eye to nuance and the truths hidden in the lies we construct as a society and as individuals. The ending will give you pause, as well it should. It may leave you with questions; it will likely provide you with answers you are unwilling to accept. It will make you think.
This one goes on my permanent shelf in print. I unreservedly give The Painting of Porcupine City my highest recommendation.