McCabe’s literary fiction debut reimagines Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice, setting it in glimmering Southern California.
With novels and a bit of poetry to his name, Jameson Frame is a writer, PBS-famous rather than a celebrity best-seller. Heir to an Upper East Side townhouse among other trifles, Frame wants not for money. Out for a walk one November day, "yet another cold, gray morning in a long string of cold gray mornings," Frame contemplates Herman Melville: "I quietly take to the sea." Those musings end with a decision to fly to Venice, Calif. McCabe writes no heavy, dense drama; his gift is constructing intriguing characters to remodel Thomas Mann’s original Death in Venice. In flight, the staid, prissily refined Frame meets Tobin, an effeminate man processed by plastic surgery, and his boy-toy, Kyle. In Venice, Frame encounters Elsa and Vera, exotic bohemian housemates fond of Tarot and wine-and-marijuana infused parties, and Chase, a skateboarding nude-and-underwear model, the "perfection of the human form." Frame’s lured from his circumscribed life by Venice’s sun-drenched hedonism, and any pretense that Frame’s appreciation of Chase is purely aesthetic fades away as Chase becomes "the object of his love and lust." In this homoerotic paean, there’s much symbolism—Frame’s first purchase after arriving at the luxurious hotel is a pair of $300 sunglasses from a beach kiosk, as if this new world blinds him with "the sheer volume of possibilities." Later, with Vera’s, Elsa’s and Chase's encouragement, Frame’s plied with Masculane, Botox and "tumescent liposuction" to set off his new wardrobe of baggy, long swimsuits, matching hooded jackets and soft leather flip-flops. Chase operates a website for "Chasers," men who subscribe to his erotic "art," and he entices Frame, ever self-flagellating in his comparisons, to film erotic video episodes for the Chasers—beguiling debauchery that promises more than Chase is capable of giving.
An engaging allegorical pursuit of the mirage that is beauty’s transcendence.