Gay romance fiction

Review: I Love You Asshole by Amy Lane


A delirious, delightful seriocomic romp which needs to be read in context to be enjoyed thoroughly.

I really enjoyed this strange, sparkling, at-times-stunning book from Amy Lane. It's an entertaining read, but an odd one… almost certainly by design. Long beautiful sections seduced me into the book's loose, louche world, but certain digressions confused me greatly... More than anything I wish I had known Lane's entire Little Goddess series before I read it. Nowhere on or in the book (or its promo bits) was that series mentioned. In fact, I had no idea this was part of a series until after I’d read it twice! My unfamiliarity definitely interfered, but I had no way of knowing I needed to be familiar with a series. More on this shortly...

This is a straight-up vampire romance and even though the two leads both identify as straight men, the narrative focuses not on homoeroticism or larger gender tension, but kinds of emptiness. That sounds more high-falutin’ than it should, but it is the truth.

At core this is a book about crushes, a word which Lane keeps reminding us is a verb as much as a noun. Both heroes lose their lives by literal crushing and Lane seems fascinated by the ways unrequited longings compress and mutilate people. The hunger that makes the vampires feed, the lust that makes them rut, the immortality that makes them detach, draw on a single crushing vacuum they cannot fill, reducing solitary Life to an endless, hopeless pouring and Love as the only fullness. Again, if that sounds more serious than I mean it to, Lane presents some pretty intense ideas in comical fancy dress to keep them sexy and entertaining.

In this book, emptiness is a serious topic getting an often goofy treatment as Marcus and Phillip circle a drain we hope will claim neither of them. There are moments of piercing sadness and the kind of angst that Lane conjures out of wisps and splinters between two men. And then there are sections of blissfully wacky comedy that leaven the loaf a bit... magical misbehavior and pixie gangbangs and searing banter that made me laugh out loud. That being said, there is a "neither-fish-nor-fowl" quality that isn’t unpleasant but is strange.

Now, not to get all high-falutin’ again, but I'd argue that Lane supports the Boethian view of Evil as the absence of Good, and she seems to extrapolate from it that Pain is the absence of personhood. She states explicitly at one point, “You're not human, asshole. That doesn't mean you can't be a person!” Suffering for her characters arises from the gnawing emptiness that hunts and harms us all, even when we are undead. In this twilight existence under Green's Hill, sex and feeding and community and magic all battle this same crushing, sucking entropy… which is a pretty somber idea to situate at the center of a witty 130 page M/M vampire story.

Lane’s faith in the healing power of meaningful relationships runs so deep that fucking (and the pleasure derived thereby) becomes a kind of cosmic bandage on the wound we all carry. There’s a blissful, puppy pile quality to the eroticism, and yet it is sexy as hell and always rooted in character. In fact some of the best character moments arise during or around intercourse. She stresses this so explicitly that Marcus, our vampiric protagonist, literally fucks suicidal depression out of his beloved and repeatedly describes semen as being "like blood but better. Like elf blood maybe, or shapeshifter blood with a chocolate chaser." For Lane it is the connection of sex that is powerful, not the meat or the motion, a clever and inherently romantic idea producing instant drama.

Like the best paranormal fiction, Lane’s book explodes real world emotions into otherworldly scope and skew. Marcus and Phillip present an interesting pair of mismatched lovers, all vanity and solipsism. The two heroes’ anger and loneliness and frailty thrive in interlocking emptinesses: of vampirism, of narcissism, of masochism, of debauchery, of unrequited desire. The emptiness crushing Marcus and Phillip from within and without generates the kind of languorous angst in which Lane revels ("only to vampires did tears taste sweet"). Were this story focused completely on the coming together of the two main characters I would have no quibbles. More than once I suspected we would have been better off sticking to the central frustrating relationship between Marcus and Phillip… and that all the other fascinating digressions (and tangential incidents and minor characters) were exactly that.

If I have a single overarching concern here it is Lane’s handling of capital-T Time.

Years pass in a sentence, decades in a page, but then some moments dilate into painstaking detail. Time is liquid, not inexpertly but often idiosyncratically; my sense is that Lane wants to dissect certain kinds of languor and anguish that come from long waits, to trace the difference between death by a thousand cuts and one sharp stake to the heart. In a story this length, she must elide time and details that might be distracting or repetitive.

At times Marcus and Philip get buried in offstage incidents and characters that arise (in these pages) as if from a vacuum. At core this is a very simple story about a very direct conflict between the main lovers, and yet in places Lane scrabbles to reach certain seemingly predetermined moments and then pushes past YEARS with barely a glance. Complicated subplots and characters appear as near-sketches and blank announcements (Green, Grace, Bracken, Renny, and the “enemy” etc). Tragedies and epic conflicts play out in the course of a paragraph, and then a lovely two-minute scene will take up six pages. In the rush to get too much predetermined action down in too few pages, the narrative relies on a lot of telling where showing would be more potent and more persuasive. A little more mindful context would have gone a long way.

Though the world is beautifully motivated, it is not specified in enough detail, reducing the stakes almost by default. In practical terms, this adds to the feeling of rushing past incidents and people which smudges the edges of the cool worldbuilding. I can easily imagine the ways that this novella peeks behind the curtains of a larger offpage story. But that story is not always clear here because the Time is so patchy and we don't always know when we are and why... interesting in a story so centered on strains of emptiness.

I enjoyed Marcus and Phillip tremendously and loved the slow crawling smolder of their union, but entire (cursory-yet-cataclysmic) digressive storylines kept getting in the way. Especially later in the book, the pace sometimes seemed to work directly against the structure. Fascinating ideas about sexual power and polyamory can’t land because they whip by us without fully registering. A pivotal, spectacular death of a major character happens so quickly it barely registers in the moment, but then unspools delicately with a lingering impact that changes everyone in the community. I wish I'd read this story as the narrative sidebar it was obviously meant to be.

There are stunning moments of potency which explode on the page often out of thin air: like Marcus being turned or Cory’s “sunshine scream” or the overnight garden. Bumped up against the instances of blank reportage, the contrast make for a herky-jerky read. In essence, the book becomes a chiaroscuro of glancing glibness and fascinating depth, making me suspect that these rich ideas and characters needed a book three times as long to meditate on emptiness more fully, but they don't have Time to do so here.

A caveat for M/M purists: there is offpage heterosex in this and LOTS of sex-positive swappage, but only in passing and never explicitly described. It brushes very close to M/M/F turf, but never trespasses. Given the polyamorous, “sensual and consensual” world under the hill it stands to reason... but I felt I should mention it.

Lest this sound too critical, please know that I'm going to go pick up copies of the Little Goddess books now because I enjoyed this as much as I did. If I have any disappointment it is that I think there is a deeper, richer novel in these two men and their relationship, this world, and these themes than Lane intended at this point in the (unmentioned) series. That is less a criticism, than an observation of possibility. There are times when this book absolutely feels like an effervescent footnote to other, sturdier books. And yet I really enjoyed reading it, enough that I’m now going back to read the others so I understand some of the bits that got short shrift in these pages.

A recommended read, but only if you read it in sequence.