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Matthew Gallaway’s new novel, #gods (Fiction Advocate), opens on a grisly scene that wouldn’t be out of place in an episode of True Detective or Law & Order—a victim of a ritual killing, body burned black and surrounded by flowers and votive candles, is discovered in an abandoned building. But worry not if gritty detective noir is your genre, because the book will soon transform itself; Gallaway’s novel is so wide-ranging that it feels more like a collection of seemingly unrelated novellas strung together with only the most tenuous of threads. Luckily for us, his gift for telling stories and crafting prose is strong enough that you’ll be so engrossed in what you’re reading that you won’t waste much time wondering why you’re reading it.
#gods is Gallaway’s second novel, a follow-up to 2011’s The Metropolis Case, which David Blaustein writing for Lambda Literary called, “a page turner” and described as a “succession of time-trotting and seemingly disjointed chapters [that] grabs the reader and cycles him through four paralleling stories.” Gallaway’s style can best be described as “epic,” in that his novels tend to range across centuries, continents, and disparate, erotically-charged characters, and be tied to a foundational tale (in #gods, it’s the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice; in The Metropolis Case, Wagner’s opera Tristan and Isolde).
The novel begins with a journey through time and myth with Gus, a New York City homicide detective who’s been charged with investigating a bizarre murder. While doing so, he has a flashback to his childhood, during which he remembers watching his sister, Helen, abducted by a being with glowing skin that he can only think of as a god. He also meets and picks up Cecil, a swarthy bear, for some hot-and-heavy man-on-man action. It’s like Tana French’s In the Woods, but with explicit gay sex—which is something I didn’t realized I wanted until I was reading it on the page.
But we don’t stay long with Gus. Instead, we dive deep into Cecil’s past growing up in the Midwest, being seduced into a predatory relationship by his hockey coach as a teen, coming to terms with his sexuality, and then running away to New York and making a new and very different group of friends. One of the pleasures of reading Gallaway’s work is that it’s absolutely chock full of queer characters—they outnumber their heterosexual counterparts by leaps and bounds—but it never feels forced or like the author’s making some kind of capital-S-statement.
Then, we abruptly shift to present day and a trio of bored corporate office workers who have been technically laid off by the international corporation for which they work, but no one has noticed, so they continue to show up every day and draw a paycheck. With their abundant free time, they decide to create a religion—including a religious text—dedicated to their former coworker, Gloria, who they worship because she had the bravery to up and quit her job and follow her passion. It’s this section, with its satire of the modern working and pop culture pastiche, that really sings.
The final part of the novel is a retelling of the classic Orpheus and Eurydice myth, in which it’s explained that the ancient Greek gods didn’t die or fade away, but chose to leave Earth behind and let humans live as they will. The narrative thread throughout the book is that these gods are contemplating a return to the world, and that these deities might actually be human beings with enhanced DNA. There’s also a shadowy organization operating as a professional plant-watering service for corporations and several other ideas running through the story. The individual pieces of Gallaway’s novel are so stunningly told that the attempt to connect them sometimes feels like an afterthought. The reader is so caught up in the riveting individual sections, that we forget that they’re tied to a larger narrative until the author calls attention to it.
Gallaway’s #gods is an ambitious, finely wrought novel that uses a variety of voices and innovative styles to explore issues of faith, religion, and connection in the modern world. The overarching story may get lost a bit among its stunning parts, but it makes for a wild ride—one that’s well worth taking.
By Matthew Gallaway
Paperback, 9780989961554, 464 pp.