Thursday, August 31, 2006
Easily one of the strangest novels I've read. Brian Leonard--a champion marksman, a biologist, and a pilot--is doing fieldwork, studying the movement of a group of cougars transplanted from suburban California and into Wyoming ranchlands. Brian is a strange guy, a 40-year old virgin with no emotional involvement of any kind with another human being. That in itself is not so strange, but rather the reason he became such a man is strange. When he was 13 he was masturbating while his lesbian sister and mother were arguing. He did this often, and got a charge from it. His mother would try to "cure" Diana by bringing men home to seduce her, and teenage Brian would jerk off listening to this regularly. On this particular occasion, his orgasm was perfectly timed with the self-inflicted gunshot that killed his sister. As a result Brian fears he's a potential sexual killer, and sublimates all emotional and physical desire into his marksmanship training.
Now, doing his cougar fieldwork, Brian is so desperately lonely that he decides to test himself by hiring a young woman to assist him. He teaches Leya how to fly a helicopter so she can steer while he shoots coyotes for money and tracks radio collars of big cats. She's your stereotypical tree-hugger lefty and can't abide what he does to pay her salary, but also she's been shabbily treated by her ex-husband and needs the work and companionship herself. Much of the book features her trying to get Brian to open up emotionally. He shoots things instead and refuses because he doesn't want to find out he can't get it up without shooting her. The give-and-take between frigid naive Leya and ultra-repressed Brian is terribly frustrating, but their exaggerated situations are not dissimilar to the problems apparent in many hetero relationships, which is one of the themes of this complex little book. Meanwhile cougars and coyotes prowl and mate and destroy foals without getting all worked up about it, and there's some intrigue with a local rancher who threatens violence if Brian doesn't help with an insurance scam, and the entire fraudulent give-and-take of polite sexuality is critiqued and ultimately exposed as a lame sort of capitalism. Because our sexual expectations and indoctrinations are so flawed, because of our complete sexual dishonesty, violence is practically inevitable between the sexes who otherwise fail utterly to communicate.
The author, Chris Mazza, is a post-feminist feminist according to her biography, and she has edited a series of books entitled Chick Lit. There's so much going on in Girl Beside Him that I'll certainly be reading more of her stuff.