Thursday, February 3, 2011

Book Review: "Another Enchanted April"

Writer and blogger Eric Arvin composes contemporary romances about gay men in situations that are ripe with the promise of tender love, sexual fantasies fulfilled, secret yearnings, and the revelation of secrets.  He had written a more somber tale about that hotbed of gay lust, the college campus, in his previous book I read, "The Rest is Illusion." His latest, "Another Enchanted April", is a romantic comedy.  It follows a lighthearted and life-changing journey made by his three protagonists on a vacation to an Italian-style seaside manor, with its lush and magical gardens, in an unidentified American coastal town.

Like "Illusion", Arvin smartly narrows his story to a manageable frame of time (about a week) and concentrates on the development of a small number of characters.  In this way, he is able to tell a straightforward narrative, woven through with threads of of detail, and allows readers to become familiar with his characters as though they were our intimate friends. "Another Enchanted April" is a breezy read, and although there are attempts at literary allusion and mildly profound insights into the often amusing intrigues of gay sensibility, the strength of this fast-moving novel is that it is entertaining.  It's a perfect companion for a day on the beach in Provincetown or a relaxing weekend in Golden Gate Park.

We follow three likable young men, long-time friends about to have an April adventure, while dealing with their physical preoccupations and romantic explorations.  Tony Fisher is the least confident, owing to an injury caused by a mysterious accident that has left him in need of a cane.  Tony has retreated from the world and given up hope of finding love.  He is cajoled and finally kidnapped into joining his two friends on this trip, Doug Dester and Jerry Wilkins.

Doug is Arvin's concoction of every gay man's fantasy:  muscular, irresistible, sexually playful, aware of his attractiveness and casually accepting of the adoration that comes his way.  Jerry, a plain and wispy intellectual who knows books,  secretly carries a torch for Doug, and must learn to find his self-confidence to step out of Doug's shadow.

"Enchanted April" may have provided Arvin with something else.  Given what we know of the author from his blog, I wondered if Arvin found a source material that allowed him to explore three different facets of his own life.  That could account for how intimately Arvin knows these characters, and how he effectively shifts the book's point of view between all three of them.

Arvin creates for his trio some hilarious and touching episodes, and surrounds them with interesting characters: Sal, the darkly handsome gardener who is Tony's salvation; the sharp-tongued cook Anna Magnani (no relation to the actress) and her pretty son Gio; and a rogue's gallery of gay types, narcoleptic bodybuilders, sleazy middle-aged doctors, wisecracking drag-queens, broad-backed rowers and frisky sailors.

The book is loosely structured on the 1992 movie (in turn based on a 1922 novel) about four English women who come together and are transformed by their time in an Italian villa.  Arvin even borrows the original last names of some of the characters for reference and for satire, and includes a delightful image from the original that is telegraphed the moment Tony gives up his cane.  There are also an abundance of Shakespearean motifs, starting with the guys' alma mater, Verona College, and carrying through to some of the chapter headings and humorous takes on character names.

In fact, there are a number of self-conscious references to everything from Shakespeare, to "A Room With A View", "Dirty Dancing", Ingmar Bergman (I smiled), symbolism, and things that please English professors.  Arvin is having some fun here, although I don't think these always work, as they take us out of the story, which has plenty of material for humor.  When Arvin's Jerry muses that every sentence in a novel must have two things--purpose and beauty--Arvin risks exposing his own writing to undue scrutiny. 

In the end, however, the story finds our heroes seeking and finding love in surprising ways, and it is to Arvin's credit that, comic implausibilities aside, we care about the resolutions to each character's searches.  I  think it's unnecessary for the author to spell out the meanings and morals of each character's story, and hope that Arvin finds the confidence in his well-written characters to let their stories communicate that meaning through description and well-observed incident.  In fact, Arvin's greatest strength is in descriptive writing and character development.  The villa he creates is as real as any place I could imagine, and I have a clear picture of all of his characters and their foibles and nobilities. I like them.

Eric Arvin is a good writer.  I encourage him to have fun with his romances, and also to consider applying his talents to more serious examinations of the gay experience, which will be of truly lasting value to his readers some day.


  1. Thank you for the lovely review!

  2. It was truly my pleasure. Looking forward to the next one!