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.
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.
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.”
“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.