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ManBug by George K. Ilsley
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Finalist for the ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Award (Gay/Lesbian Fiction) Shortlisted for the ReLit Award for Best Novel The first novel by George K. Ilsley, whose first story collection, Random Acts of Hatred, was published to acclaim in 2003. Told in dreamlike fragments, ManBug unfolds as a love story between Sebastian, an entomologist with Asperger's Syndrome (similar to autism), and Tom, a spiritual bisexual who may or may not be recruiting Sebastian for a cult. They explore the world through their relationship, seeking meaning and value in themselves through the other. They also try to avoid the inevitable toxins around them, both real and imagined--like bugs avoiding insecticide--while asking the question, Just how much poison can any of us absorb? ManBug is a beguiling, tragicomic novel about beauty, horror, desire, and what lurks just beneath the skin. Sebastian used to be a research entomologist. Mostly, Sebastian researched the development of pesticides. Much about this work in the killing field disturbed Sebastian (for example, the casual use of the concept "termination opportunity"). When distressed, Sebastian tended to express conflict.  A blurt of truth might escape his lips before he could help himself. This could be, for example, while compiling mortality data, or tweaking a statistical analysis of residual contamination by increasing the sample size. Smoothing the result, it was called. Smoothing the rough edges of truth: the research facility, through a shift in perspective, became a factory generating statistics. They virtually manufactured data, based on demand. Statisticians called the data massage, increasing the sample size. Managers called it, broadening the research horizon. Sebastian called it, diluting the evidence. Diluting it until the answer came back, "no detectable residue."  But all the poison was still in there. Somewhere. Somebody was eating it.… (more)

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This quick and dirty plot summary makes the whole of ManBug seem precariously twee, an exercise in quirks and idiosyncrasies, and indeed the duo are spectacularly unique in oddball ways, in particular Sebastian’s additional experiencing of synesthesia, a condition wherein he sees colours in reaction to sounds or words. It’s to Ilsley’s immense credit that ManBug, a novel without a noticeable plot, reads not as overly-precocious experimental fiction, but rather as a funny, sexy, and surprisingly profound experience.

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  ShelfMonkey | Aug 14, 2009 |
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