Prepare to Squirm
by Tony-Paul de Vissage, 2016
The Absinthe of the title is not the famous liquor, but a character. And here the Green Fairy is male, a green-eyed addiction summoned by Voodoo. Perhaps here de Vissage is interpreting the word fairy in the modern vernacular.
But this is a tale of passions in the sultry swamps of Louisiana two hundred years ago. It's a tale of white gentry and black slaves and red Indians, all coming together in lust and magic.
Everyone in the book is getting into somebody's pants and if this book is any indication, it would appear that almost every man in New France and Old was gay or at least bi. One exception is the old witch woman, Maman Lusa. But then, clearly she's the wisest character in the story, because all this lust and longing produces unwanted children, suicide, blackmail, and even murder.
After the randy Étienne abandons his unloved wife in the French colonies, he returns to his homeland, hoping to see Louisiana never again. Unknown to him, his wife made sure she was pregnant with their. She gave birth to a son but gave him up for adoption.
Twenty years later, the son, nicknamed Absinthe, is employed in a brothel, servicing men and the woman who owns the place. He also takes a lover, Rouge.
Then Étienne returns to New Orleans upon hearing of the death of his wife. He's hoping to make a new life once he disposes of the plantation. But first he decides to have a little fun at his old haunts on the bad side of town.
At about Chapter 5 I suddenly had a vision of where the plot was going. And I must say it made me laugh and cringe at the same time. I think many a reader will just cringe because the especially-forbidden act is... Oh, read it for yourself. If you dare.
But this big scene—which would be the climax (so to speak) of most books—occurs only about a quarter of the way in. And while the almost-act is interrupted, there are plenty more to follow.
I began reading this book knowing it would be about Voodoo and would have a same-sex relationship. Indeed, almost every man in this book is gay. “...Absinthe realized there might exist a few men he couldn’t cajole through use of his body.” Well, I've always said I don't care what other people do in bed.
Well, that sentiment was put to the test with “Absinthe”.
I admit I was not prepared for the several close brushes with incest and seeing the 'heroes' committing rape and blackmail because they can get away with it. Seeing father and son performing sexual acts side by side (admittedly, with separate partners), is not comfortable reading. And worst of all, they smoke tobacco! These characters are not likeable .
But the plot is still interesting, containing many romantic twists and turns. Absinthe brings the Voodoo of Louisiana to old France but this is an unusually sexualized brand of Voodoo. When he gets caught with his pants down (literally), his father is startlingly complacent about the whole thing.
Relationships get amusingly complicated towards the end as Absinthe manages to bed almost everyone. The ending is very dramatic, unexpected, and suitably intense.
The writing is good, and sometimes it shines. Consider this line: “... she braved the swamp's gator-filled waters to reach the hut where the old obeah-woman lived. It was deep in the bayou's interior, with trees huddled together on the water-logged banks, stretching their moss-laden branches over the water. Mosquitoes swarmed the river's surface in seething clouds, loud hums warning of their malaria-ridden bites.” If that doesn't take you to the backwaters of the Deep South, I don't know what will.
The book has wonderful historical details that take the reader to the New Orleans of 1725 and shows us the world of that time. We see the wooden ships and elaborate fashions of the day. We hear the clatter of horseshoes on cobblestones and we smell the stank of dead fish. This is a world of great excesses and great poverty side by side. It is a world where men know their place and serve, however resentfully, their masters. Slavery is shown accurately, as is the role of women. Modern readers may not enjoy seeing such things but we need to know how life was in the past if we are to appreciate the present.
In New France, where the story begins, there's a brothel named The White Swallow. So that's where that old gag came from.
While not containing the supernatural elements we come to expect from Tony-Paul de Vissage, (at least until chapter 30, and then it's appropriately subdued) “Absinthe” is nonetheless an enjoyable read. Skim over the m/m scenes if you must, but give it a read.
Quibble: “The cabin was small, surely not more than eight feet square.” So... it measures like four feet by two feet? Yes, that's small.