Confessions of a Mask by Yukio Mishima is a novel about a boy questioning his sexuality and coming to terms with being different. Set in Japan before and during WWII, the novel exists within the anxiety of a mind before tragedy. The narrator highlights different moments of his life where he realizes he is different through his encounters with Omi, Sonoko, and a prostitute. Throughout, the narrator hints and describes his desires for men, the way he fantasizes them being tortured, but can’t come fully to terms with his sexuality.
I think what holds this narrative back is the way it resides too long with Sonoko. The actions and motivations of the narrator around Sonoko are sometimes murky. And while, I understand Mishima wrote the book at a time in Japan where being gay was taboo, it felt like the book skirted way too far away from the subject. It tiptoes around how the narrator feels for Omi and Sonoko, and because of that, there isn’t a decisiveness to what the novel wants to be. Is it about Sonoko and the built friendship, or is it about the narrator’s sexuality? Overall, however, it gave a snapshot of Japan’s sentiments on being gay. It had some well-crafted metaphor, and the moments with Omi always felt special.
Final Rating: 3.5/5
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara is a novel that focuses on the harrowing, painful, and bittersweet moments of four friends in New York. Though, of course, the novel is so much more than the relationships of the friends because it is about their experiences, their pasts that will not leave them, and their desires to build something after they have dealt with a tremendous amount of turmoil. And while, the novel’s other characters, Willem, JB, and Malcolm inhibit and direct the narrative, at its core, the novel is about Jude. Jude’s childhood is devastating, and he has been taken advantage of at every turn of his life by Brother Luke, Dr. Traylor, the counselors, and a countless amount of other men. So devastating, that Jude cuts himself, tries to kill himself, and shuts down around the people he loves.
It is truly a difficult (due to the subject matter) and terribly sad novel to read. Though, it felt that the approach that Yanagihara took with rape, suicide, and violence was well thought out and powerful. It describes the limitless nature of love, the horrors of the world, and what it means to be imperfect. And while it is a larger piece of fiction, the passages were written so smoothly that I found some days I read over a hundred pages, but only felt like I read twenty. Yanagihara expertly crafts language, moments, feelings, prose, and time to create something undeniably life changing. It made me cry, and heart-warmed when Jude finally tells his boyfriend, Willem, about his past in the closet. They sit there, they exist, and they know that there will only be love between them in that moment. This is one of the best novels I’ve read, and I don’t think I can recommend it enough.
Final Rating: 5/5
Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith is a poetry collection which contemplates gun violence, existence, torture, pain, isolation, and truth all loosely framed under the context of outer space. Its universe and planet metaphors work to invigorate and deepen the understanding of the moments Smith curates. And in the poems, ‘The Speed of Belief’ and ‘Life on Mars’, the themes are imbued into lines such as, “Tina says what if dark matter is the space between people”. Space as a metaphor contextualizes the distance of the people within the poem who have been locked in basements, sexually assaulted, and were prisoners in Iraq. For these people, there is no grounding because all they have experienced is torture of another world. Smith pulls together moments, ideas, and feelings vividly and extraordinarily well in this collection.
Final Rating: 4/5
Passion by June Jordan is a collection of poetry which focuses on the violence, police brutality, racism, and sexism targeted toward the black community. Jordan’s anger bleeds through the poems and is found in their repetition and rhythm. More specifically, I was drawn to the poem ‘The Rational, or “She Drove Me Crazy”’, which is in the voice of a rapist who is trying to justify his actions to a judge. Jordan is able to capture the sexism/misogyny and use it in horrifying and powerful ways. Poems such as ‘Poem about My Rights’ and ‘En Passant’ are bold and unafraid to discuss ideas that were controversial at the time. This collection is a rallying cry and a way for Jordan to say that these things need to end. And I think, in a way, she is trying to comfort herself/others when she writes, “We are the ones we have been waiting for”.
Final Rating: 4/5
Maxwell Suzuki is a writer, poet, and photographer based in Los Angeles.