Sometimes I end up reading books that are so far out of the genres I usually read it’s refreshing. That’s the case with these two novels about hired men who through their jobs end up in some pretty unusual situations. Both are a quick read and might be good options for the man in your life this Labor Day weekend. Or try them yourself!
Gibson is a rising star in the world of food in New York until an escalating drug habit costs him his restaurant, his wife and his freedom. When he makes it out of jail and is paroled to a halfway house it is his manager’s girlfriend who suggests to him that he move to L.A. to become the private chef of a world famous rock star known as Monster. And so Gibson goes, in Jervey Tervalons’s new novel Monster’s Chef. He leaves behind his life and moves onto Monster’s massive, isolated compound (known as Monster’s Lair) in the mountains of the Santa Ynez valley in California. Despite the isolation and oddities of his new boss, Gibson adjusts to the life, right up until a young man is found dead on the lawn near his bungalow. Suddenly, privacy and the quiet life are gone as Gibson is confronted by local police as a suspect.
It is only as Gibson enters Monster’s inner sanctum in the second half of Monster’s Chef that things start coming together in a way that feels more like reality than fiction. As Tervalon fleshes in more of Monster’s details, namely his being a black man who bleaches his skin for whiteness, his penchant for entertaining an ever-changing cast of young blonde boys, his fondness for unusual diets and supposedly life enhancing treatments, a breathy high voice…well, need I go on? The parallels grow to the point one can almost hear the lawyers lining up to get at the author because by the novel’s wild end there is little doubt who this freakish former singer is supposed to be. When Gibson agrees to help Rita (the artificially inseminated mother of Monster’s baby) rescue her child from Monster, the finale moves beyond reality and even fiction to a fantastical crescendo that will either work or leave you wondering what you just read. For me, it felt like the only conclusion to a tale that, wherever its source originated, can only end badly.
Why I wanted it so much I almost couldn’t say. There was a draw to the simplicity and old-fashionedness to the vocation, to being a servant almost. I got to bathe in the reflected glow of their luxury while assuring myself I was not so shallow as actually to want such things.
Jess is a young man living in Michigan, getting his second college degree and writing music reviews, when an old friend from Portland lets him know that an up-and-coming pro basketball player named Calyph needs a chauffeur. Despite having no real experience he takes the job when it’s offered. Chris Leslie-Hynan’s new novel Ride Around Shining begins with Jess being summoned to a party at his new boss’s house to pick up his wife. While there he brushes into an ice sculpture that crashes on Calyph’s leg. He walks away before anyone notices and takes the wife where she wants to go, which happens to be a small house she’s buying to move into and leave her husband. Jess takes a flyer and leaves it inside another book Calyph has asked him to look at.
Jess is a slippery character, an odd concoction of obsessive fan, compulsive liar and possibly, a man in love, but, with who? He appears to be one of those people who creates drama in a person’s life in the hopes of swooping in and fixing things. Unfortunately, he only appears to be good at the breaking part and wreaks havoc on Calyph’s life by causing a season-ending injury and his wife’s leaving him. It takes an unfortunate misreading of a social situation to bring Jess’ nearness to the high life to a speedy conclusion.
Much of Ride Around Shining is spent amongst the Portland Trail Blazers in their off-season, meaning Leslie-Hynan writes of parties and life at a level most of us will never even glimpse. There are palatial houses, parties of Hefneresque proportions, and special favors granted to all the athletes by everyone they come in contact with. As Jess insinuates himself into Calyph’s life as more than just a chauffeur it is Leslie-Hynan’s prose mimicing the patois of urban mega-star athletes that gives the novel the feel of riding in an Escalade, through the night, waiting for whatever might happen.