Summary Review: A surprising May/December romance that started off badly but ended well, mixed in with the excitement of the Mardi Gras Parade in Sydney, Australia.
Fifty year old American novelist, journalist and blogger, Damien, has arrived in Sydney for the 2010 Mardi Gras Parade. Damien is traveling incognito because in a recent blog he criticized the relevance of the parade and bemoaned the fact it had drifted so far from its roots as a commemoration of the Stonewall Riots—the first time the fairies fought back.
He is met at the airport by Simon, a young Australian who has been asked to look after him and give him a real “Taste of Australia.”
Set against the backdrop of Sydney and its world-famous, colorful Mardi Gras, the two men find they have a lot more in common than either at first realize.
Damien was a well known blogger and author who lived in San Francisco. At the request of his editor he travelled to Sydney to capitalize on his new infamy after his online column criticizing the local Mardi Gras parade generated so many negative responses that subscriptions to the paper doubled. His assignment was to get the real story first-hand on the Mardi Gras and determine whether his criticism that “modern-day homosexuals are preening, self obsessed, hedonistic, indulgent and superficial” was valid. This column had offended the locals, especially one blogger who supposedly called him an “ageing Yank Queen”. When Damien arrived in Sydney he was met by a young man who introduced himself as Simon Jennings and announced that Damien’s editor Aaron had asked him to be his guide during his stay.
After the usual “getting to know you” preliminaries Damien noticed that Simon was very nervous and something seemed off. He couldn’t figure out what was wrong but his radar told him that the vibes he was receiving were not quite right. After a few false starts he and Simon seemed to hit it off, but occasionally Simon was unfriendly and he couldn’t get him to say what the problem was. Just when they were getting on, a friend of Simon’s showed up and there was a heated argument but again he remained reticent about what was the problem. Shortly after, they returned to Damien’s hotel and Simon gave him an erotic massage to relieve his tired muscles after his hectic day, but just when it was getting interesting and they got up close and personal, he left abruptly. Damien later found out that “Simon” was not his real name, and that his guide was an escort, in other words a prostitute, hired by Aaron as a welcome to Australia gift; in fact he had been screwed but not in a good way. The mystery of who “Simon” was and why he had acted in the way he did is a twist that I won’t reveal.
When I saw Mardi Gras on the publisher’s site I was intrigued because I hadn’t read any books by this author, and also the story had both the Sydney Mardi Gras Parade as well as the Stonewall Riots as the background for a romance. I was pleased at the way that the author, A.B. Gayle, wove both events into the fabric of the book to make readers aware of the significance of the parade in Oz and the relevance of Stonewall, which celebrated its 41st anniversary last month.
This book is both a romance between a fifty year old man and one 26 years his junior, as well as a history lesson, but the history and current events were well integrated into the story and were so rich in detail that the background came alive vividly, which made the book entertaining and enjoyable. The Mardi Gras parade was such a colourful event, as described by the author that I could imagine myself being there among the spectators, and I have to hand it to A.B. Gayle for trying to get it right. Most of all, the onlookers’ reactions as they soaked up the atmosphere of the parade demonstrated that Damien’s and his new friend Patrick’s views about the significance of past and current events were not that far apart. The characters had a lot to work through because not only had they started off on the wrong foot by not being honest with each other, but there is a major age difference in this May/December romance, and although there’s a HFN ending, it’s difficult to see how the protagonists could make it work since they lived in two countries that were thousands of miles apart and they were in different places in their lives..
If you’re looking for a simple romance, Mardi Gras may not be the book for you because there is a lot of social history packed into 65 pages, and while the book is not preachy, if you’re not interested in what happened 41 years ago and how relevant it is in today’s society you may find some of the prose and dialogue in this ambitious short story not to your taste. While the two characters were well drawn I thought that perhaps Patrick might be a bit too youthful in his general outlook to sustain a relationship with someone as sophisticated and world weary as Damien, but I suppose that’s why opposites attract. If you’re in the mood for a different story with a lot of external and internal conflict, Mardi Gras might be just the ticket.