Tales from a dark side
by Jim Piechota
The Torturer's Wife by Thomas Glave; City Lights Books, $15.95
Racism, homophobia, terror, and war crimes are common themes in Lambda Literary and O. Henry Prize-winning author Thomas Glave's eccentric second collection of stories, The Torturer's Wife. These are thinking-man's tales, ones that challenge notions of fairness, right and wrong, past and future, while detailing the situational happenstance that occurs when things end up not being what they appear to be.
Jonathan and David, the two gay men in the opener "Between," seemingly enjoy their interracial relationship, but volleying inner monologues tell a completely different story. There is much unrest in the racism of one to the other, one partner referring to his partner as "one of them," then delivering crushing post-coital verdicts like: "His color that – that turns me the fuck on, okay, but that sometimes also makes me sick. Sick, I mean like sick to my stomach, I mean like I can't believe sometimes that in spite of everything I couldn't do better than."
Glave changes channels on us swiftly by next presenting the title story, with a completely different theme, mood, and writing texture. In it, an unnamed woman ("She") comes to terms with her military-officer husband's wartime atrocities. He's a torturer, committing acts of heinous violence in "the secret places that everyone pretends don't exist." With screaming visions of scattered teeth, bloodied limbs, fingernails, and shattered knuckles swirling around her, she reaches a state of personal atonement in the most peculiar way possible.
Other notable tales feature two boys bound for a life of slavery, in "He Who Would Have Become Joshua," who miraculously rise up out of their shackles and disappear into the heavens; and the painful remembrance of a man whose friend was killed in a vicious, calculated hate crime in Jamaica ("Out There").
Interruptions, run-on sentences, and unorthodox punctuation waltz with graphic, grisly descriptions and sudden bouts of poetry. Teeming with unnamed characters and secrets galore, Glave's collection impressively and collectively presents itself as a trembling sheath barely concealing the horror and dubious complexities of modern-day life as we know it.
While the heavy-handed subject matter contained within these tales might not appeal to a bookstore browser searching the stacks for light beach-reading, there's enough human trauma and socially weighty material here to keep the serious fiction-reader wide-eyed and at full attention.