A Guest Review by Aunt Lynn
Unfairly arrested and charged with the murder of a police officer, Daniel has been jailed indefinitely until trial. A Brazilian prison is a terrible place to lose his innocence. Daniel would have lost more than that — perhaps even his life — if not for Mephisto, his cellmate.
Clippings is the story of the challenges faced by a middle class young man in prison, and his relationship with a dark, mysterious man who seems eager to protect him, but who might have his own inscrutable plans…
Set in a generic large city in Brazil, Clippings opens with third-person narrator Daniel, a late-teens, upper-middle-class college student waking up in a hospital setting to find that it is the infirmary at the João Ataliba Zamora Detention House. Told that he is there because he has been accused of killing a police officer during a protest on campus and being held at the prison until trial (which could be indefinitely), Daniel is confused, dismayed, scared and sure that he is not guilty of the charges against him (though that’s what they all say, right?). A young, good-looking innocent will not stay that way long in a place like this, so the doctor, seemingly taking pity on the kid, has him transferred to the least-violent block when it is time for Daniel to go into the main population. On the way, the guard tells him that his cellmate, called Mephisto, is a rapist/child molester and that Daniel is sure to be his dessert that night, which terrifies the boy even further. Enigmatic Mephisto is somewhat of a surprise, however, and thus begins a relationship between the two men as Mephisto acts as mentor, instructor, bodyguard, caretaker, friend, and lover to Daniel during his time inside. After the initial shock, Daniel comes to find prison life fascinating in a socio-political sort of way and with Mephisto’s guidance, along with the assistance of fellow inmate, the Professor, he discovers the ways to survive until the day he can be free again.
Clippings is not your typical m/m romance. In fact, it is not solely a romance, but also a sociopolitical study of prisons, at least in Brazil. Even with it set in prison, which is pretty rare backdrop for a romance, it’s not a typical prison story. One would expect the young, innocent protag to have terrible, violent things happen to him, have him preyed upon, but that is not the case here (more on this in a bit), so I found Clippings to be almost gentle, which was a surprise.
Additionally, it’s written by an author whose first language is not English and set in a country where the primary language is not English. We are given explanations of some Portuguese words via footnotes, which I felt was effective, and the narrative and writing style fit the environment of the story.
I found Clippings to be a beautiful and, though I am not an expert in penal systems of South American countries, realistic story both in the setting and the romance. The author assures us in several ways that the book was researched extensively and I believe it shows. That doesn’t mean that there are not moments where, like Daniel, I was amazed that prisoners were permitted the relative luxuries that were described here, but apparently it is true based on an interview that I read.
Clippings is also, imo, a believable Gay For You story. Daniel comes to prison straight and after getting to know Mephisto, falls for him despite his previous sexual encounters with women. How much of that is because there are no females around is debatable, but we hear many of his thoughts and words as it is happening, such as
…when Mephisto captured his lips and their bodies pressed against each other, Daniel realized there was no possible comparison between what he had experienced with the girls and what Mephisto was doing to him. Mephisto was pure desire, and a desire so intense that it spread like a fire through Daniel’s body…It shouldn’t be so good, thought Daniel. It shouldn’t feel like the fulfilling of a long-held dream.
Daniel surrendered to the lust and possessiveness that emanated from the older man, expecting to feel at any moment some kind of disgust for what he was doing, exchanging caresses with another man. But all that he felt was Mephisto — Mephisto’s body molding to his, his tongue claiming acceptance, his hands awakening every part of Daniel’s body, setting him on fire. Everything was Mephisto, and everything was right — it couldn’t be more right.
To drive home the GFY theme is Daniel assuring a jealous Mephisto, saying “I don’t like men. Just you.” The smexxin, when it does appear — and it is not overrun with it — is gentle and loving.
I found all of the characters sympathetic, especially young Daniel, and was happy that he could have a protector such as gentle Mephisto, who is more than double his age. Though at first he is suspicious of Mephisto’s kindness and generosity — Daniel keeps expecting the ax to fall, so to speak, and his debt to Mephisto to be paid between the sheets, but that does not happen — and after a time, becomes much more relaxed around him.
“I’ll take my cup of tea to my bed later. What kind of tea do you want? I drink only black tea, but I have some herbal teas, too: chamomile, anise…”
“Chamomile,” said Daniel, overcome with a surreal feeling: he was in prison talking to a supposed rapist who offered him herbal teas.
Daniel has it easy compared to other prisoners because of the security of Mephisto and the Professor and as such, much of the darker aspects of being incarcerated are absent. I found this story to be a fascinating social and political study, as Daniel did as well. Daniel is a journalism major in addition to being social scientist, and the talks between Daniel and the Professor, which Mephisto calls “psychosocial masturbation,” about prison life, social structure and philosophy were very interesting. How prison is all about power — from the schedule to the flow of the buildings to the bars to the sex. How Prison was just a microcosm of the larger society, to put it in more elegant words. You just don’t find that level of serious debate and discussion in m/m romances, and it was refreshing.
With names such as Daniel, Lucifer and Mephisto, it is not surprising that there are numerous Biblical references, especially to Daniel’s guardians:
“Daniel in the lions’ den.”
“Only instead of an angel of God, two dark angels came to protect me.”
There is a large, colorful cast of secondary characters, and they are all three-dimensional and interesting. The largest role goes to the enigmatic fellow-prisoner The Professor (aka Lucifer), who is in a position of esteem and respect in the prison in such a way that prisoners and prison staff and administration alike revere him. Other cast felt fully-fleshed as well, and as a result, even the smallest roles had depth.
Clippings is a wonderful, unusual story that I highly recommend to readers of the genre.