THE MANDRAKES by Zachariah Jack


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A prequel explores the early lives of four gay men before they dramatically intersected.

Prolific author Jack (A High Country Tale, 2016, etc.) revisits the main characters at the center of his impressive preceding novel and presents their separate histories prior to becoming a close-knit group of friends and lovers. Split into four volumes, the engrossing saga devotes some attention to extraneous details but focuses a great deal on each man’s carnal coming-of-age. The compilation begins with Lucas Cevennes graphically describing his very first same-sex sexual encounter, an event he considers an “introduction to the Devil Incarnate.” Admitting his gay feelings early and spending his youth bound within the strict confines of a Christian upbringing, Luke pines for personal freedom while exploring other boys’ bodies at summer camp—with unrequited teenage affections blindly guided by his bulky “ever-ready snake.” Eventually, he undertakes the challenges of medical school. In the second section, Cal Broadhearst’s Southern youth born “of the blood of Princes” is distinguished by impressive manners and reserved behavior yet marred by episodes of extreme bullying. These attributes produce a refined and savvy black man talented at competitive wrestling and software engineering and masterful at “the erotic boogie and prance” of dance-floor gyrations. Jake Marshall’s third section depicts a bucolic Vermont heritage and a fatherless boyhood spoiled by a mean stepdad though greatly redeemed by male friends and frolicsome fishing trips. He is mentored by a neighboring elderly couple who invest in and promote his future in medicine. At college in Texas, Jake embraces his scholarly prowess and a newfound fondness for same-sex romance after meeting Cal.

Jeremy Kell rounds out the vivid profiles as a boy born into an enormous brood of children who raises goats and becomes obsessed with a Jamaican “Rasta Mon.” Later, as a teenage father plagued in his young adulthood with “lonesomeness for a significant peer,” he braves the future with hope for his daughter and a loving male partner for himself. Fans of Jack’s original novel will be delighted to discover the humble and enticing beginnings of these four gay men, their backgrounds, and how their lives progressed up to and including their impactful intersection in A High Country Tale. The author takes his time with all of the quartet’s members, meticulously exploring their internal struggles and early ambitions as well as the ways their young lives become dramatically influenced by latent homosexuality and negatively hobbled by the strict religious leanings of parents and family members. While the narrative does have a tendency to be clunky, overwritten, or just plain cheesy in spots (Luke’s campground sexual curiosity was a “nascent stirring of endocrine undertones providing provocation,” while Cal’s libidinous “cobra informed the higher head”), Jack knows how to illustrate his characters well and make each one engaging on a variety of levels.

A creatively original, character-driven companion volume fusing biographical sketches with gay sexuality.

Pub Date: April 11th, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-9980990-4-0
Page count: 374pp
Publisher: Self
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2018


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