ARCADE by Drew Nellins Smith


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A Texas-based debut novel about a man controlled by his sexuality.

When Sam finally realizes that his sexual orientation might be different from what society expects of him, he resorts to the internet to find satisfaction. But the Missed Connections vertical on Craigslist is not enough for him. To his surprise, he happens upon a roadside arcade that guarantees anonymity to its customers, that allows for a quick release, and that carries the potential for a connection. For all intents and purposes a XXX video store, the arcade is where the confused Sam soon spends most of his days and nights. There, he meets a cast of men, ranging from a “tweaker” to “a big bull of man,” and engages in a variety of activities­—most of which will elicit chills and a raised eyebrow. “I could have something like an encounter [at the arcade], a vicarious experience completely free of any fears of infection or the face-to-face intimacy I didn’t know how to process,” Sam says. The novel oscillates between telling Sam’s story outside of the arcade and framing it only in terms of his homosexuality (“I had seen porn magazines before…I remember shaking all over and coming in my pants….I kept shaking after that, searching my room for a hiding spot where no one would look….That was the moment when I knew…I might really be the kind of person you weren’t supposed to be”). Smith has created a narrative that entrances its readers, constantly giving us excitement and depicting with audacity the rawness of sexuality. However, the text rarely explores the complexity of coming out in a contemporary environment, reverting to hypersexualized stereotypes of gay men. Smith offers few glimpses into Sam’s life outside the arcade, with brief appearances by the genuine love interests and connections Sam has made, but quickly returns to the arcade—as if sex was the only thing on his mind or the only thing he was capable of. Nevertheless, Smith has crafted a daring and compelling debut that sheds light on a rather unusual lifestyle.

A sexy and poignant novel that could have done well with a more original exploration of gay mores.

Pub Date: June 14th, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-939419-72-9
Page count: 222pp
Publisher: Unnamed Press
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