Anyone unfortunate enough this summer not to be able to partake first-hand of the riotous scene in the Pines on New York’s Fire Island need look no further than Mario López-Cordero’s ""Monarch Season" to get a good sense of what it’s all about. Innumerable variations of sex, drugs, chiseled abs, asses and biceps, hedonistic parties, arrogant haves and sorry have-nots romp through López-Cordero’s present-day bodice-ripper for gays.
The romantic plot centers around Devin Santos, who seemingly has it all: A killer body, Adonis curls, financier boyfriend and a stunning summer house in the Pines. But there are serious flaws in this picture-perfect paradise, as evidenced by the copious amounts of drugs Devin needs to get through the day, dealing with such crises as discovering his boyfriend’s infidelities, a flower delivery of dogwoods instead of quinces, and a very sleazy voyeuristic next-door neighbor and his loathsome ex-con employee. Power and perversion abound and intermingle.
Enter the good guys: Devin’s best friend, Jude, and Frank Duma, the self-confident, recently-out man who has fallen head over heels in love with Devin. Frank will try anything to win Devin over, running the gamut from shameless stalking to cool friendship. At first Devin tries desperately to resist and hang on to his old life, but increasing moral quandaries and nudging from Jude force him to take a good hard look at the true emotional cost of all those Purple Label ties, Hermès cufflinks, Italian linen sheets and a boyfriend who treats him like dirt, not to mention Devin’s own enabling role in the whole saga.
Devin and Frank’s blossoming relationship is interwoven with a delightful cast of minor characters, heavy doses of sex, and gossip. The novel moves briskly, provoking moments of outright laughter thanks to López-Cordero’s snappy dialogue and descriptive prose. Under his masterful eye, the Pines comes alive, providing a vivid and riveting snapshot of a slice of contemporary gay life.
López-Cordero skillfully portrays Devin’s arc from a life of high-maintenance impression management to one more purposeful, filled with hard work and mature love. It’s a lesson that extends far beyond the gay world.
Magnus Books, an Imprint of Riverdale Avenue Books