A Guest Review by Feliz
Summary review: This is a melancholic and at times dark, but well written piece of gay themed fiction rather than a m/m romance story.
The Blurb: When Edward inherits the family textile mill from his deceased parents, he knows where his duty lies. As a young Victorian gentleman, he devotes himself to the family business and doing right by his customers and employees. What concern is it that he surrenders his own artistic ambitions and romantic passions? But a hideous accident at the mill one day brings him into close contact with Mori, one of his most productive workers, a beautiful yet seemingly delicate and vulnerable young man. Edward takes Mori under his protection, bringing him back to his house. At last, Edward has found a friend and companion. His fascination for Mori grows swiftly into love, and he’s drawn out of his quiet introspection into a world of delight and passion. Yet Mori has a private task that both baffles and concerns Edward: the completion of a stunningly beautiful, abstract tapestry. Edward doesn’t understand its significance, Mori’s devotion to it, or Mori’s strange behaviour when Edward tries to part the man from his mission. Mori loves him in return, he’s sure – but can that ever be enough? As Edward is tangled more deeply and irretrievably into the web of Mori’s love and mystery, what bittersweet price might he have to pay?
NOTE: This story was originally published in the anthology Masquerade.
A caveat first, this story doesn’t have a happy ending. Apparently, I always end up with the bittersweet stories, even if I don’t consciously go after them 🙂
That said, this story was intriguing. Edward, a Victorian textile mill owner, has some ideas his compatriots think rather quirky. For example, he doesn’t employ children, and he provides basic healthcare for his workers, an almost unheard-of generosity. Although he can’t become rich that way, the quality of his fabrics is beyond debate, and his workers like working for him. His mill even attracts a group of somewhat secretive, unusually skilled foreigners who keep themselves separate from the other workers, but create the most impeccable cloths.
When one of those foreigners dies in an awful accident, Edward gets to know the group’s leader, Mori. Edward, who has put aside his romantic and carnal needs for the sake of the mill, finds himself strangely attracted to the beautiful stranger, to a point where he can’t help kissing the young man. He even goes one step further, inviting Mori to spend the night at his home. One thing leads to the next, and soon Mori is living with Edward, sharing his house and his bed, and Edward finds himself in love with Mori. Although he’s sure Mori loves him back, he can’t help wondering at his young lover. Mori often gets up during the night to work at a mysteriously beautiful tapestry which he says belongs to his entire group, with him being its keeper. When he comes back into Edward’s bed, he’s usually voracious for sex, which Edward doesn’t mind, quite the contrary. Edward finds his life enrichened and lightened by Mori, to a point where he can’t imagine being without Mori anymore, no matter what people might think of him.
Mori, though, doesn’t come alive on the pages. As well as we get to know Edward, his thoughts and motivations, Mori remains distant, strange, an enigma. Their love feels one-sided, with Mori merely playing along, pliantly and obediently following Edward around while he goes about his goal and purpose: weaving his tapestry. Everything Mori does revolves around his tapestry, Mori’s only purpose and the reason why he is with Edward seems to be his weaving, preserving it, working on it, completing it. The only time when Mori shows initiative is in bed, but this has also always to do with his tapestry, since he’s usually the most lecherous after working on it.
As the members of Mori’s group fall ill and die one after the other, the colors on their tapestry grow fewer and fewer until only Mori’s own silvery thread remains. Although Mori, thanks to Edward’s loving care, is as healthy and well-fed as any young man can be, he becomes more desperate day after day, with his tapestry as well as in bed, as if he was running out of time. Edward spends more and more time with Mori and less in the mill, bewildered and scared by Mori’s strange behavior, yet willing to do everything in his powers to protect Mori, even from himself. But will it ever be enough?
I can’t reveal more of the plot in order to avoid spoilers, but I have to say, this story wasn’t the usual m/m romance. I’m not even sure I’d label it as romance at all, although it was sure the story of a deep, lasting and all-consuming love. In fact, putting a label to this story gave me a hard time; “gay themed romantic literary fiction” comes closest, I guess. “Threadbare” reminded me of some works by Romantics I read back in school , Novalis, for example, or the young Goethe – a tragic, fated love, very sad, very mysterious, bizarre and yet so beautiful.
Don’t expect a “normal” historical m/m romance, for this “Threadbare” is not. Although I must admit I didn’t particularly like this story in itself, I must also clearly take off my hat to the author’s poetic, skillful writing and to her courage in setting about to publish such a story.
Threadbare can be recommended for those who are open to new and unusual experiences and don’t mind untraditional endings.