A research biologist explores the parameters of love, sex, and creativity in this inventive, inordinately busy latest from the provocative British author (253, 1998, etc.).
Protagonist Michael Blasco, who’s doing brain experiments on lab animals, becomes his own most recalcitrant subject when his sexless relationship (due to Michael’s impotence) with younger boyfriend Philip is replaced by fantasies—and thence the discovery that Michael can summon and banish at will copies (or “angels”) of real and fictional humans. First up is heterosexual gym instructor Tony, whose “angel” form nevertheless cheerfully offers itself to Michael. Piqued by his speculative intuitions that lust may be akin to a cosmic gravitational force, Michael indulges himself further, “calling up” filmdom’s Tarzan Johnny Weissmuller (who’s utterly innocent of sex), jazz chanteuse Billie Holiday (who soberly declares “in the future, there will be no such thing as swing”), and an egotistical, career-oriented Pablo Picasso. Michael also reconnects with former friends and relations—notably, his ex-Marine American father, with whom the teenaged Michael had spent California summers, and very nearly broached an ultimate taboo. The episodes detailing such encounters vary widely in quality. The Picasso sequence, for example, seems to drag on forever; yet a similar later one, involving a Fagin-like purveyor of gay porn who begs Michael to grant him “the power to make angels” (and thus stock ever more X-rated films), is briskly efficient and mordantly funny. The long dénouement, in which Michael (like Shakespeare’s Prospero) effectively “releases” his creations, and reconciles his several biological, intellectual, and intuitive selves, likewise meanders—though Ryman does bring it all to a moving, satisfying close.
Not, therefore, Ryman’s best, but a risky, highly imaginative addition to a unique and valuable body of work.