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Remain in Light by Collin Kelley

Remain in Light

by Collin Kelley

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(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)

Regular readers will remember the 2009 book Conquering Venus, the debut novel of multiple Pushcart and Lambda Prize nominee Collin Kelley, and how in my original review I found it promising but full of problems as well, a decent enough first novel but that got only a tepid recommendation from me. And now Kelley has just released a sequel, Remain in Light, which essentially takes the same characters and picks up about a year after the previous book leaves off, examining the long-term repercussions of this group's event-filled lives in the original; and the good news, I'm happy to say, is that this second novel is much better than the first, and in fact Kelley seems almost to have directly addressed the exact issues I most complained about in the previous title. For those who need a recap, the first book details the adventures of two youngish hipsters from Tennessee (one a slightly douchey Jewish woman, the other a gay man whose lover recently committed suicide), in charge of leading a group of rowdy teens through their senior trip to Paris, where a whole series of tumultuous events occur -- the man falls in love with one of the teens, a closeted jock with addiction issues, then accidentally becomes friends with a sixty-something French female ingenue, who has been a virtual shut-in since her own lover was killed in the 1968 student riots in that city, the two coincidentally sharing both an unusual tattoo and a propensity for strange magical-realism dreams, a fascinating milieu but unfortunately with wildly inconsistent characterizations, not to mention the troubling aspect of our "hero" entering into a sexual relationship with an underage boy by basically taking advantage of him whenever he was wasted.

Thankfully, though, it's these exact troubling aspects that Kelley mainly addresses in Light, with much of this book being about the long-term effects of that relationship on everyone involved; the devastated man is now sharing a flat with the ingenue, sexually drowning his sorrows through a series of bathhouse-cruising hookups with strangers, while the boy has since disappeared, with his homophobic parents back in Memphis vowing revenge, while the ingenue has had her own mystery deepen as well, as it starts becoming clear that it wasn't actually de Gaullean stormtroopers who killed her husband but rather one particular individual, a former family friend who may or may not have been secretly keeping tabs on her for the last thirty years, and who may or may not have recently purchased the publishing company where she works for mysterious and perhaps sinister reasons. And that's great, because it keeps up the intriguing and busy plot (the best part about the original Venus) but takes a much more consistent and realistic look at how such events would actually affect characters like these, all of them more sympathetic here in the second volume (including the aforementioned douchey hipster Jewish woman, whose one-year-anniversary vacation to Paris is what kicks off all these new events in the first place), precisely because their actions have such more serious consequences here; plus, it's clear that Kelley's actual extended trip to Paris himself between the writing of the first and second novels had a tremendously positive effect as well, in that the city really comes alive here in a kind of engaging and evocative way that it simply doesn't in the first volume. Great as a standalone book, or even better as part two of a grander whole, this is the rare sequel that easily outperforms its predecessor in just about any way you can name, and it comes with a highly enthusiastic recommendation.

Out of 10: 8.7 ( )
  jasonpettus | Oct 7, 2011 |
In 1968, Irène Laureux's husband was murdered during the Paris riots and his body dumped near Notre-Dame cathedral. Thirty years later, she finally catches up with his killer. With the help of American writer Martin Paige, Irène will illuminate decades of secrets and lies only to discover that her husband's death is part of something far more sinister.
  CollinKelley | Oct 2, 2011 |
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