Spreadeagle

Text by Danny Calvi

I first read author Kevin Killian’s sexy, but horrific short story ‘Spreadeagle’ in Bob Glück’s writing class at college back in 1992. Kevin recently told me his intention back then was ‘to write stories that would be novels in themselves — miniature novels’. Twenty years on, an entire book has grown up around that story which now sits at the center of a two-part novel of the same name.

BUTT has never been in the habit of publishing or reviewing fiction, but every now and then, an astounding piece of writing stands out. Or maybe it’s just that Kevin’s gossipy novel is so dressed up in real life, you almost start to believe you’re reading a work of non-fiction.

When one of the main characters goes online and finds himself on the BUTT website, ‘immersed in the details of the biggest cock Robert Gober ever found in his mouth…’ I was like, I can’t recall BUTT ever having profiled Robert Gober. Maybe we should? Another character receives BUTT magazine in his P.O. box, and lends it to a friend ‘wrapped up in brown paper, because we must be discreet around here’. Around here being Gavit, the provincial Central California town where the second half of the drama unfolds. A quick Google search yields no real town. Kevin says Gavit’s a figment of his imagination and actually, ‘kinda based on Bakersfield and kinda based on Fresno, except it’s much smaller’.

In the first half of the book, you’re introduced to the wealthy, white world of a couple of A-list gays in a time when AIDS activism in San Francisco, as Kevin puts it, ‘had coalesced into a bureaucracy that was always flirting with the corporate’. It reads like a social comedy while detailing the dire consequences brought on by an ongoing economic recession.

The second half is a real page turner… Like a neo-noir with a dubious set of fucked up characters ‘in the sticks’ who end up crossing paths with the characters from Part I. There’s a Genet-esque trailer park romance between killer Gary and the celebrity-obsessed Geoffrey, the narrator of the novel whose ditzy prose style lures you into a false sense of security just before the trauma hits. Anybody who’s known somebody who went down the meth path, will recognize the spiraling down, the dismantling of a life over a hundred pages or so.

The two halves are stitched together by a series of events which are as funny as they are brutal. And there’s lots of spanking and nasty butt sex too. In fact, the word ‘butt’ appears thirty-two times in ‘Spreadeagle’. As in: ‘Robert Redford could kick McKellen’s British butt, all the way back to fucking Birmingham, but just because he’s not gay, he’s not wanted here!’ (pp 241); or ‘He slapped my butt and told me to lie spreadeagle.’ (pp 308).

Listen to Kevin Killian read from ‘Spreadeagle’ this Saturday evening, 21 July from 7 PM at Alley Cat Books in San Francisco. Buy the book, or read it for free on the internet through Publication Studio who print and bind books on-demand from Portland, Oregon.

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