Published by Lethe Press in February 2013, my second full-length novel, Deprivation; or, Benedetto furioso: an oneiromancy.
A finalist for the 26th Annual Lambda Award for LGBT Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror.
Happiness is not a potato, to be planted in mould, and tilled with manure.
—Charlotte Brontë: Villette
It seemed this evening Ben was out drinking with his friends. These friends had no names he knew, he had never seen them before, but they were old friends. He wasn’t sure how many of them there were, or whether they were women or men. Where they were drinking was a bar, raucous, loud, smokey, dark, everyone here was his friend and he didn’t know anyone. The bartender seemed always to stand in the beam of a spotlight, white singlet and pale eyes glowing. He pushed his hair off his brow with his wrists, practiced his smile, and kept giving Ben Scotch and waters and refusing his payment. Evidently Ben liked Scotch. The music in the bar had no melody, only beat, a hard fast thumping that accelerated the thumping of Ben’s heart. Sweating, he moved hips and shoulders to the rhythm, talked to himself and all his friends, and felt he was happy.
the interpretation of dreams in order to foretell the future.
Sleep deprivation does funny things to your head. Steeped in the romance of Renaissance Italian literature, Ben Lansing isn’t coping well with the routines of his first post-college job, his daily commute from Providence, Rhode Island, to Boston, the inevitable insomnia and lack of sleep, or the peculiarly vivid dreams when he does manage to sleep.
For Ben “wished to be a paladin. He wished to mount Ariosto’s hippogriff and fly to the moon. He wished to sing a Baroque aria of stunning, shocking brilliance, bringing the audience to its feet roaring, ‘Bravo! Bravissimo!’ He wished to run mad for love.”
When Ben encounters a lost prince squatting in a derelict South Boston warehouse with his little sister and elder brother, exiles of an imaginary Italy, he resolves to rescue Dario and Dario’s family—and himself. Stumbling from dream to real life and back again, Ben begins a fabulous quest. Amid visions of futures, pasts, strangely altered presents, he encounters mythic personages—raffish bike messenger/artist Neddy, dilettante translator Kenneth, his own mother and father. He falls in and out of love. He witnesses the flight of the hippogriff and the collapses of the New England economy and his parents’ marriage. He discovers what he never knew he was looking for all along.
In Deprivation, a novel as real as a fairy tale or romantic Renaissance epic, neither Ben nor the reader can ever feel certain of being awake or dreaming, walking the streets of Boston or the mazy paths of dreamland. Can you separate wish from fulfilment? Do you want to?
Fascinated by an idealized version of Italy he imagines from literature and art, a young gay man goes through the motions of a mundane life in the 1990s, while sleep deprivation causes vivid dreams that blend strangely with reality.
Jeffers’ fuguelike story elevates everyday people and places to the fantastical with beautifully evocative language and detailed descriptions. … At the same time Ben is perhaps creating these people, they help define him. Everyone seems to have moments when they’re real and moments when they’re fantasy; even dreams have agendas and needs to push upon Ben. … An exquisite flow of language ensures that the narrative doesn’t get lost even as Ben drifts.
A gorgeous journey to nowhere.
An amazing book. Gorgeous conceit, perfectly carried through—brilliant and hallucinatory and sharply real. I wanted to race through it, but also to go slowly and savor the scenes. Truly fantastic, in every sense of the word.
—Melissa Scott, multiple Lambda Literary Award-winning author of
Trouble and Her Friends, Shadow Man, and the Books of Astreiant
Perhaps in the hands of a lesser fantastist the milieu of dreams would be passé, but Jeffers imbues his troubled hero’s sleeping and waking life with rich casualties that imbue the romance craved by the lonely like few other authors. I am confident, in the years to come, Deprivation will be listed among the notable gay novels of speculative fiction.
—Steve Berman, author of Vintage & editor of the Wilde Stories series
With its fascinating interweaving of dream and reality, Deprivation is anything but. In fact, it’s a story so full and rich that it expands our view of the world and our seemingly mundane lives, challenging us to embrace the wonder and possibility that is all around us.
—Trebor Healey, author of Faun and A Horse Named Sorrow
To call Deprivation a romance or coming-of-age story would certainly be accurate but not entirely true and a criminal understatement. This latest novel from Alex Jeffers, author of Safe as Houses and the story collection, You Will Meet a Stranger Far from Home, follows a young man’s arduous quest to find his place in this world and someone to love amidst economic hardship, family drama and pervasive delusions resulting from an alarming lack of sleep. …With a character as genuine and likeable as Ben, a compelling story and the author’s extraordinary depiction, “Deprivation” is a worthwhile read.
—Chris Verleger for Edge Atlanta
[A]nyone who enjoys immersion in other worlds will find Jeffers’ literate and impossibly precise language a rare and beautiful thing. His dream of the hippogriff is amazingly creative, and he brings it to life with such verve and style that it truly makes me envious. And that’s only one example.
Jerry Wheeler for Out in Print
[W]hat Alex Jeffers does so brilliantly here is bring [the] feel of Boston and the glory of Renaissance Italy together to give us a story that is so beautifully written that the prose can bring the reader to feelings of awe.
I wanted to read something unusual, beautiful and thought provoking, and based on my past experiences with this writer’s work, I figured I would get it. The book delivered.
Ben reflects that “The journey not the arrival matters” and much of the delight of this novel comes by following the links that are practically embedded in the text (I hope the ebook edition actually has embedded links). With “Orlando furioso” as the backdrop, we are introduced to many elements from the poem such as the mythical hippograff and medieval paladins. The mad arias from Vivaldi’s and Handel’s operatic interpretations of the poem form a brilliant soundtrack for this book, download them on iTunes. Jeffers[’s] vivid descriptions of paintings by El Greco and Titian illuminate the book from within. With its many references to the Italian Renaissance, the novel could almost serve as a single volume introduction to the quattrocento. You won’t want this dream of a book to end.
—Dick Smart for Lambda Literary
Ben Lansing, the slightly hapless just-out-of-college hero of Alex Jeffers’ new book Deprivation…, lives in Providence, Rhode Island and commutes an hour every morning to his job in Boston, works all day, and then commutes an hour back to Providence, and the process has led him deep into the grey wilds of sleep deprivation. This is odd – it’s the opening oddness of a surreally odd book. Many hundreds of people make that same commute in real life every day; Jeffers himself has very likely done it – it doesn’t lead to sleep deprivation of any kind, much less the thoroughly hallucinatory kind poor Ben experiences, but it’s a measure of Jeffers’ quietly stunning literary ability that no reader will care for longer than two or three pages about what a wimp Ben must be. Two or three pages: that’s how long it takes Deprivation to cast its spell.
—Steve Donoghue for Open Letters Monthly
Before Deprivation was an oneiromancy, it was a dream romance. Originally it was a romance of the recession, but that was a different decade, a different recession, and the implications seem unfortunate now as the Great Recession grinds on, demoralizing all in its path. (Well, all but the 1%.)
Because, despite its faintly ominous main title and setting during the first Gulf War and the recession of the early 1990s, Deprivation is an oddly joyful novel. I wrote it in a rush in 1992–93, beginning on the MBTA commuter train between Providence, where I then lived, and Boston, where I worked—a matter of an hour each way, scrawling on one after another pad of quad-ruled graph paper. It is not, perhaps, anymore my favorite of my completed long works of narrative fiction (The Unexpected Thing gives it a hard time), but I continue to love it unreservedly.
At the time (I was taking a break between interminable drafts of Safe as Houses, which refused to assume a coherent shape), I had begun to read speculative fiction again after about a decade of confining myself to Proper Literature (stupid man). I had also recently reread Ariosto’s Orlando furioso—in Barbara Reynold’s stirring two-massive-volume verse translation because I have little Italian—possibly the most sheerly enjoyable epic poem ever written. (During the year of composition I went on to read Sir John Harington’s Elizabethan translation. Yay me.) (And about half The Faerie Queene. One day I’ll read the whole thing. Truly I will.)
Nevertheless, I really meant Deprivation to be, like Safe as Houses and Do You Remember Tulum?, relatively conventional literary fiction, set in a convincing facsimile of our real world, never breaking the laws of physics or the customs of the country.
My subconscious had other ideas. I should have known: the inspiration from which the book grew was a pair of dreams. I don’t often remember my dreams. Indeed, for many years I denied ever dreaming at all and believed the denial. As one of Deprivation’s characters notes about himself, I think almost entirely in complete sentences—dreams, which are almost entirely image, don’t make much impression.
These two did. They are transcribed nearly verbatim in the text. I am not going to tell you which two they are.
Like much of my work, the book ended up between genres (I’m more conscious about it these days). For years I refused to admit that, though, calling Deprivation a Conventional Literary Novel, subspecies: Gay, and thereby setting up expectations the clever book declined to fulfil. At one point, in an attempt to strangle its fabulousness, I stripped out practically everything connected to the inspirational dreams but the damn thing still wouldn’t behave. Was a far less interesting book, too. So I put it back together.
The other night, my friend and publisher, Steve Berman, and I had a discussion about how to categorize Deprivation, because fiction has to be categorized or booksellers and readers just stare at it blankly. Dammit. As the discarded subtitles insist, I’ve always thought of the novel as a romance…but almost entirely in terms of the word’s original connotation: a fabulous tale (like the Orlando furioso) of a chivalric hero. In terms of the contemporary publishing category—particularly that terrifyingly prosperous subgenre and subculture, the M/M romance, which hadn’t been invented yet in 1992—…not so much. Although it is a love story (not a spoiler), it doesn’t follow the genre rules. I feared that if we labelled it simply ROMANCE, readers who seek out that label would be baffled first, disappointed second, angered third.
Nor can it safely be labelled SPECULATIVE FICTION. One of the most scorned tropes in the fantastical genres is “and then I woke up and it was all a dream!” Nearly every explicitly fantastical event in this novel occurs when Ben is pretty damned sure he’s asleep and dreaming. It’s a trickier book than that (trust me), but not every reader’s going to see it—nor would I expect her to.
I happen to think of it on some levels as POLITICAL FICTION, a social and cultural critique, but A) nobody’s ever going to agree with me and hurrah for that; B) god, that sounds deadly boring. Which my novel is not. No, no, no. Challenging, infuriating, damn near unfathomable…. Sure, if you like.
We might have called it SURREALISM. Oh, dear. Did anybody aside from the Surrealists themselves ever care about written Surrealism?
We’re fudging. I’m not thoroughly convinced Deprivation qualifies as MAGICAL REALISM, but I like to think the label will serve as a friendly warning to readers accustomed to both spec-fic and lit-fic that I’m embracing some of the expected conventions of their preferred genres, disregarding others, but flouting out of sheer ignorance none.
(But what is it really, AX? Really? It’s a love letter to the idea of Italy. Don’t tell.)