Review: Blank Spaces by Cass Lennox

The cover of Blank Spaces by Cass Lennox

This is one of the stories I’m reviewing for Asexual Fiction from Riptide Publishing Month.

What is this story about?

Works of art get stolen, leaving BLANK SPACES on the wall of an art gallery.

The End.

Okay, not really.

Absence is as crucial as presence. The absence of these stolen works of art is turning out to be crucial to the (dys)functioning of the art gallery where Vaughn works. They have insurance, but since it’s the third time art has been stolen from this gallery in a year, the insurance company sends Jonah to investigate. And when Vaughn’s friend takes him to a gay bar later, it is sheer freaking coincidence that Jonah also happens to be there, having sex with two guys at once.

Vaughn lives off his family’s wealth, came from a stable loving family (though they are sometimes too nosy about his personal life), loves art, has mild manners, and doesn’t like sex. Jonah thinks art is boring, is abrasive, was abandoned by his mother when he was five years old, lives from paycheck to paycheck, and likes to forget his problems by have lots of sex with strangers. Obviously, they are a perfect match … for entertaining readers.

What sexual and/or violent content is there in this novel?

There are many references to Jonah’s promiscuous lifestyle, but generally the descriptions of his sexual escapades are very brief. There is a non-penetrative sex scene which is described in some detail. There are brief references to the physical abuse Jonah experienced as a child, and at some points in the story there are threats of physical violence. Oh, and there is a scene where someone shoves someone into a closet and forcefully kisses that person (though the person being kissed loves it).

Tell me more about this novel

Based on my story summary, Jonah could seem like a creep. I’m relieved to say that he’s not. He’s flawed, and he sometimes fails social relations, but he does understand basic human decency, and when he messes up, he does apologize and try to make up for it.

Anyway, I would like to share this short excerpt from a scene where Vaughn is trying to get Jonah to appreciate abstract art:

“And what about the rest of it?” Jonah gestured to the creamy expanse below the mess. “There’s nothing.”

“Absence is as important as presence, in art.” He paused. “In most things, actually.”

What the shit did that mean? “In English?”

“The artist could have painted this in. But she didn’t. She left it bare for a reason.” He pointed up. “Why is it busy up there, but not down here? The lack of something here is meaningful. It contrasts the mess up there, and the mess contrasts how bare it is down here. The two define each other, and the absence therefore takes on its own significance. It could be colourful, but it isn’t, and we have to think about it.”

And a little later in the same scene:

“Look at this. What the fuck even is this? It’s like this one line of interesting shit and a whole lot of uninteresting shit. And the interesting stuff is right at the top. It’s distracting. If I was going to make something people wanted to look at, I’d fill the whole canvas up with that part.”

“Imagine what that would look like.”

Jonah could. The whole canvas would be covered with the bright colours and slashes and it would look— “Crazy,” he realized. “Even more of a mess. Like too much to look at.” He frowned. “Wait, is that a thing? Limit the crazy so it’s a pretty mess instead of a huge one?”

“That is indeed a thing.”

“So, mess is nice but in small doses?” Jonah gazed at the cream colour. It was so . . . so . . . “It’s bearable when everything else is quiet,” he said slowly. “It’s easier to enjoy when the rest of it is calm.”

Why did I choose to highlight this scene rather than other scenes? Because the novel is called BLANK SPACES. And these excerpts explain the benefits of BLANK SPACES in art. This is obviously tied to the overall metaphor of the story.

One of the ways the ‘blank space’ metaphor is built into the story is Jonah’s personal life. He has an extremely active sex life (creating ‘busyness’) partially to compensate for the ‘blank spaces’ in his personal life (such as the lack of reliable parental figures). That’s not to say that he is in constant angst mode over his childhood – he mostly prefers not to dwell on it. But, errr, during the course of the story, he hears news of his mother for the first time in almost twenty years, which forces him to deal with emotions drama.

I felt that the whodunit of the stolen art pieces was too obvious for that storyline to be fully satisfying, but who are we kidding? This is a romance novel, and the stolen-art plotline is mainly a device to get Vaughn and Jonah to meet under plotty circumstances.

So, Asexuality

On the asexuality content scale (1 = minimal asexual content, 10 = maximum asexual content) I rate this story as a 6.

Yet another way the ‘Blank Spaces’ metaphor shows up in this story is as the absence of sexual attraction and sexual desire, specifically with regards to Vaughn.

Vaughn’s had sex, didn’t care for it, so he stopped having sex. Since he assumes a boyfriend-style relationship isn’t possible without sex, he tells Jonah that he isn’t into ‘relationships’. Jonah also is not into ‘relationships’ because he prefers to have sex without commitments, so he mistakenly thinks that Vaughn is into casual sex, just like himself. Cue comedic misunderstandings (and yes, there are quite a few bits in this novel which made my laugh out loud).

Vaughn’s known for years that he is ‘different’ from other gay men, but did not really know how to describe it until, during a toga party, he overhears a discussion of queer politics:

“Oh, shut up. We’re talking about asexuals, not gay guys.” She scowled at him. “Just because you’re gay doesn’t mean you can define what queer is.”

“Just because you’re queer doesn’t mean you can tell me where my identity fits in the entirety of the LGBTQ umbrella or that my opinion is invalid,” he responded. “And if we’re talking about asexuals, I don’t think they should be included at all.”

“Oh really?”

“Abstinence doesn’t mean shit to anyone except right-wing loons in the US.”

She grinned in triumph. “Asexuality isn’t abstinence.”

“Sure as fuck looks like it.”

“Abstinence is behaviour, which isn’t what asexuality is about,” the girl continued. “It’s about the direction and manifestation of your sexuality. Gay guys are attracted to men, right? And you have a libido, ergo, you want to sleep with men. But what if you got drunk and slept with a woman? Are you still gay?”

“Yes.” He scrunched up his face. “No. I think it depends.” He shook his head as if to clear it. “You got a point?”

I like this twist on the ‘ace explanation’. It gets the key points across for the readers who really don’t know about asexuality as a sexual orientation, yet because it’s mixed into a political discussion, it’s also offers something to readers who are more interested in 201 level discussions of asexuality.

I do not want to get into too much detail about how Vaughn and Jonah react to this discussion of asexuality because that would be spoilerful, but as a member of the asexual blogging community, I have to quote this section:

On a whim, he’d typed asexuality into the search box, which, like most whims related to the Tumblr search engine, proved an excellent idea. Soon he’d followed about a dozen new blogs with names like queenieofaces and gaybeard-the-great, some of which even seemed to be based in Canada. Promising.

Yes, an asexual blogger I follow (Queenie) is specifically mentioned in this novel. Gaybeard-the-great, on the other hand, is a character in Finding Your Feet, another novel by Cass Lennox which I will be reviewing this month.

Was this written by an asexual?

Yes, Cass Lennox is asexual.

Hey Sara, do you like this novel?

Hell yes! Ever since I started doing these reviews of asexual fiction in October (and no, I had no idea that it would turn into this big of a thing – honestly, back in October, I just thought I would read about 10 asexual novels/novellas and be done with it) I have read over 30 asexual novels/novellas/short stories, and this is one of my top favorites.

Blank Spaces may be purchased at the Riptide Publishing Store or at various book retailers. One may also get it from most public libraries in California via Link+.

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23 thoughts on “Review: Blank Spaces by Cass Lennox

  1. Pingback: Asexual Fiction from Riptide Publishing Month | The Notes Which Do Not Fit

    • So, impressions based on the first half.

      The author clearly has personal experience with gay male culture, or else did good research on it. This book speaks to my experience. Makes me feel guilty about being a gay guy because we get so much fictional representation and some of it is even very good.

      • I don’t think gay guys need to feel guilty about getting so much fictional representation, some of it very good. I mean, it’s not like there is more good representation of gay guys than good representation straight guys, or am I missing something?

        EDIT: Also, Riptide Publishing claims that most of its staff are queer, so it’s possible that the writer got a lot of help from a gay male editor.

      • I was thinking mainly in terms of ace fiction, where m/m romance is totally overrepresented. I don’t feel that guilty, mostly just privileged.

      • Ah, I see.

        You may find this rant interesting, though it is a bit out of date since it’s from early 2015 (before the 2015/2016/2017 deluge of ace fiction). Basically, it says that M/M sells, and that F/F sometimes sells (and when it sells, it sells very well), but that other kinds of queer fiction do not sell.

        I suspect that m/m is over-represented in ace fiction because it sells.

        I think there is a Christian Romance publisher which has also put out at least one ace fiction title, and maybe I’ll choose that for next month just so I can contrast Christian Romance ace fiction with LGBTQ+ ace fiction.

  2. Pingback: Review: Finding Your Feet by Cass Lennox | The Notes Which Do Not Fit

  3. It’s so cool to have the real-world ace experience depicted so accurately in a book (Tumblr! gatekeeping from other queer people! um, maybe I shouldn’t be excited about that one…); I feel like that’s really rare. But sadly, I’ll never read this because m/m romances with sex scenes aren’t my thing. I want to read more contemporary ace fiction, but it seems like most of it that’s not YA is m/m romance…

      • THIS COMMENT CONTAINS SPOILERS, Y’ALL HAVE BEEN WARNED:

        They agree to have an open relationship; Jonah can have consensual casual sex with whoever and whenever, and Vaughn is not expected to have sex. There is also a scene which … since you probably don’t want to know the details, I’ll just say that something sexual happens between Jonah and Vaughn. I’m not sure it counts as sex, but Siggy considers it to be a sex scene, and he knows much more about how gay men understand sex than I ever will. Vaughn consents to it because he wants to please Jonah, but it was established earlier that Vaughn has some firm limits on what kind of sexual activities he wants to do (for example, he’s not going to consent to penetration), but he’s willing to do some sexual stuff which doesn’t cross his firm limits to please Jonah, and that scene does not the limits which Vaughn had already established.

        I think you can understand why I couldn’t answer your question with a simple yes or no.

      • Thank you for explaining! I think this might be the first fictional story I’ve heard of where an ace-allo couple resolves their mismatched sexual desires by having an open relationship. Usually the resolution seems overly simplistic, either the allo being fine with no sex and not considering it a big deal, or the ace being perfectly willing to have sex for their partners’ sake. So it’s cool to see an author handling it with more nuance (and having the ace character’s boundaries respected!).

      • Yeah. I think Siggy and I have different opinions about this one (with Siggy being more critical, but maybe I misunderstood him) but I think it’s because this story has more nuance that it’s possible for aces to have a more diverse set of opinions on it.

    • Yeah, I know what you mean about a lot of ace fiction being YA and/or m/m.

      A couple of recommendations if you want ace fiction which isn’t YA or m/m are the Breakfire’s Glass and We Go Forward. Breakfire’s Glass is part of the Zhakieve Chronicles, and while I generally recommend reading Alexey Dyed in Red first, it is possible to read Breakfire’s Glass as a standalone (Alexey Dyed in Red has sex and m/m romance; Breakfire’s Glass has no sex and no m/m). We Go Forward simply is not YA (though I suppose one could classify it as New Adult), has no sex, and is f/f.

      EDIT: Also, you may want to check out Finding Your Feet, which is in the same series as Blank Spaces and also has an ace protagonist. Though there is quite a bit of discussion of sex, there are no sex scenes, and it’s not an m/m romance. Furthermore, it has a LOT more content about Tumblr aces than Blanks Spaces (the novel depicts a meetup of Tumblr aces at Niagara Falls, for example).

      • Thanks! I’ve been planning to read We Go Forward for a bit because it sounds like one of the few contemporary ace books that isn’t m/m or YA; I’m looking forward to it. And I’ve been considering buying Breakfire’s Glass too, so I will probably check that one out as well!

        I just read your review of Finding Your Feet–the jealousy thing sounds kind of annoying, but maybe I will read that one since there’s so little else that fits what I’m looking for.

      • Yeah, Finding Your Feet is not one of my favorites, but it does feature some interesting stuff that’s hard to find in other ace fiction.

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