Sex and God and Other Essays is a curious collection of writing that sticks long after closing the book. Some of the subjects are so outrageous and so taboo, that at times it’s hard to believe they have been written. But thankfully, Cataldi has, given the instant impression of a brave author.
Considering the background of the writer, which he explains in the prologue in detail, the work is shaded with a whole other quality. A gay-Christian-Taoist-Leatherman who doesn’t agree with vegetarians? That’s about as niche a viewpoint you’ll ever get.
Never once does it feel thoughts are disingenuous, and there is never a sense that he is trying to provoke. His points of view are solid and grounded in libertarian principles. Refreshingly, he does not moan or blame. And for a gay man, his views on marriage and sexuality are not the usual suspects. He believes that life is suffering, and that one must struggle through in any way possible. There is also a tender understanding of love that permeates the book: how past relationships define a person for who they are today, and, more often than not, can make one all the better for it.
In between essays, the inserted short stories seem slightly out of place. Although they fit in the context of this book as a presentation of Cataldi’s mind, the prose is too similar to the non-fiction pieces. To read the book is to sit across the table from the author, engaging in honest and sincere conversation. So when this is disrupted by fiction, it’s as if a scene from a musical is taking place, with people randomly bursting into song, with the stories taking the reader out of the flow. It would have been better to split the book into two sections, nonfiction, and fiction – or indeed, two slimmer books – as opposed to the scattered method chosen.
There are some contentious points. For example, mixing metaphors and science can feel as if the argument has swum a little too far out, and is wading through material that requires a level of expertise that, Cataldi even admits himself, is not there. The upside is that the author tackles them with open naivety. He puts himself in the position of the ‘ignorant everyday-man’ which can be inspiringly malleable. But opinion is not fact, and this is a thin line often crossed in such works, for better or worse.
This book does however stand as a bastion of free speech. Cataldi has delved into not only unpopular issues, but off-putting ones with such gusto and honesty that any reader with an open mind will come away feeling that they understand the world a little more.
It is said that nowadays it is punk to think conservatively, it is alternative to be religious. Cataldi is a testament to that. There cannot be any other book in existence today that deals with the heady cocktail of Christianity, Leathersexuality, and philosophical theory. A reader journey’s from homosexual fiction to criticism of Communism? This has to be a must-read for anyone, especially those looking to discover a path into alternative thinking.
In Whither, Willie Wicked? Jan Ewing has produced a terrific piece of work, tackling hard subjects that are both topical and magical, melding the real with the imagined.
The story follows Thomas Llewellyn Gareth, known as Gareth, a private investigator tasked with locating the punk rock star Jeff Christopher after his disappearance in light of a rape accusation. All is not as it may seem, with rumors that Jeff Christopher has turned into someone else, Willie Wicked, and questions arise as to his father’s intentions after Gareth learns Jeff squeezed him out and lost his father a lot of money.
This mission sets off a chain of events that pull the story into the realm of fantasy. The magical elements to the story (are they wizards?) adds a level of intrigue that allows the narrative to twist and turn in strange and wonderful ways without the breaking of one’s suspension of disbelief. Curiously, we are able to imagine this world where the Illuminati and ISIS join forces, but the novel still retains its core believability.
The prose, at times, has the tone of cerebral speculative fiction – philosophical, poetic, knowledgeable. The musings are never frivolous, despite what may be suggested by the premise, as the book asks intriguing questions that are ultimately answered in the story itself. When faced with the reality of the terrible goings-on, Gareth attempts to assign meaning – things can’t happen for nothing, they have to happen for a reason. Death and destruction have a purpose here and the prose is strong enough to deliver an intelligent message with its story, without ever being overwrought.
There is no wasted storytelling here, and characters satisfying evolve as the story progresses. Thomas Gareth is a strong, witty character who in the face of terrible situations always knows how to wriggle free. The two characters that do stand out as needing work are the Chongs. The choice of stilted English vernacular pulls the reader out of the world and draws the focus away from what is being said to how it’s being said.
That’s really a small issue with the overall narrative, which is strong throughout. The main trouble with the book is the title and cover. On first glance, the book presents itself as a children’s book, when really, it is the furthest thing from one. The title as well seems out of place, especially with the use of Whither that conjures images of Victorian tales. The title could have survived with a different cover, but not both. This is a real shame, as this is a highly inventive modern novel with a cover that doesn’t at all reflect what is inside.
In terms of pure storytelling, Whither, Willie Wicked? is a continually surprising read. Those who enjoy a good detective story will find the novel gripping and unique, and the novel will also appeal to fans of magical realism. It’s a tricky blend of genres, but Ewing successfully pulls it off in a novel where turning the page can take you anywhere.