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The things you think about. The things you waste so much energy on. Do they ever seem worthy in retrospect? Devin Santos, the main character in Mario López-Cordero’s stunning debut novel Monarch Season (Riverdale Avenue Books/Magnus Books), reflects on this thought at the end of his journey of self-realization, summing up the essence of the metamorphosis that transforms him from a somewhat superficial existence into a man of depth and substance.
When we first meet Devin, the beach house he shares with his partner Charlie is being photographed for a magazine article. López-Cordero utilizes this opening moment to let his readers know there’s more than meets the eye going on in Devin’s well-decorated world. He writes, With every click and every flash, Emma and the photographer were documenting whole histories hidden in the weight of objects, microcosms of laughter and light, of chores and larks, and the ruthless passing of time.
The attention paid to the importance of aesthetics in Devin’s world is revealed in poetic language as the author peels away layer after layer, exposing the void Devin is trying to fill with anything that surrounds him. López-Cordero paints a picture rich with gorgeous details, never overlooking or missing an opportunity to compare and signify the importance of inanimate objects to a life unfulfilled. Devin laments early in the novel: The heart, he thought, breaks in stages. In cracks and chips and scratches worn slowly by waves and tides and whipping, biting wind. You think you have a statue, but you turn to find a fragment.
Set over the span of a summer on Fire Island, López-Cordero populates his uninhibited literary landscape with a bevy of complex, fascinating, and certainly page-worthy characters. The setting is crucial as it becomes a character of its own in the novel, providing the perfect backdrop for his cast of men to play out their lives against in their seemingly insatiable search for lust.
There’s plenty of booze, boys, sex, and drugs, making the novel less a modern-day all-male version of Where the Boys Are and more a gay echo of Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers. Like many beach-themed novels in which a get-away is providing a much-needed escape from real lives, the intoxicating allure of hedonism and all-things illicit are the driving forces for many of the characters we meet in Monarch Season. López-Cordero sums this up beautifully through his character of the sought-after Frank Duma. He writes, There was beauty everywhere. Frank Duma gulped down his drink, gathered his resolve, and dove in.
It is when paths cross and Devin and Frank meet and ignite a spark that a romantic element heats up the novel. It is through this new and unexpected relationship that Devin discovers the inspiration he’s been searching for to make monumental changes in life. The realization he comes to (He was just as clueless today. As clueless then. As clueless as he would ever be. Except now he could admit it.) is one that many experience, giving this novel a strong appeal to readers who, like Devin, are also looking back from a newly found perspective.
by Mario López‐Cordero
Riverdale Avenue Books/Magnus Books
Paperback, 97819366833627, 328 pp.