Lear, James. “While My Wife’s Away”, Cleis Press, 2017. July 11, 2017
A Journey to Self-Discovery
James Lear is a literary pornographer and that is not a term that I give away easily. I have reviewed all of his books and find that he just keeps getting better even though I rarely read gay erotic writing. I believe it was about ten years ago that I was first introduced to Lear (when I was one of Cleis Press’s regular reviewers before the company was sold). He knows how to create a situation that he make erotic in very few words and I can safely say that he has written some of the best and some of the hottest gay prose that I have ever read.
He does the same in his new book, “While My Wife’s Away” and just the title reeks of eroticism and sexy thoughts. Try to remember your first time with a married straight man (so many of us have done this) and see if it doesn’t rank with some of your most erotic experiences. Here we meet Joe Heath who seems to be a typical (“typical” is a word that bothers me because I am not sure that such a thing exists anymore) straight married man, living with his wife and two teenage children. He commutes to work, plays sports and enjoys beer but there are some things about Joe that very few people know and those that do have been his sexual partners. No one really knows that his marriage is sliding as is his relationship with his wife. They sleep in separate bedrooms and really have stayed together for their kids. only staying together until the kids have left home. Something else that others do not know is that Joe wants to have sex with another man.
When a chance meeting with a trainer at his gym occurs, it sets Joe off as a series of other sexual encounters with men. In fact, Joe has all kinds of encounters from casual to serious to dangerous. This is way James Lear goes to town. It did not take long before Joe began living a double and dishonest life (as far as his family is concerned). Joe earns for his family by day and becomes a sexual adventurer by night. His hunting ground is the internet where he can find whatever he wants.
Now you may ask where is the literary aspect of James Lear’s work. I see it in Joe’s self-discovery of who he really is. While he is not the kind of guy that I would want to call a friend, I cheer him on as he learns abut himself and we can only hope that self-acceptance will follow. Lear is a sophisticated writer whose pornography is also sophisticated and there is a profundity in this novel (and I will let you discover that yourselves). Yes, the prose is sexually stimulating but it is also, to a degree, intellectually stimulating. There is an inner psychological drama here and we see this clearly when we look at the lies that Joe need to use in order to be himself. Joe faces himself when dealing with what he considers to be personal need and not morality or the lack of it. He is not happy in a marriage that has run its course but we do not know who gets the blame for this.
This is in no way a romance—it is hard erotica with no emotions and no hanging around for coffee in the morning. While the sex is plentiful, it is not gratuitous in that they contribute to the growth of Joe’s character. It took the accident at the gym and the attentions of the trainer Adrian for Joe to realize what had been missing in his life. When Adrian helps him at the gym, Joe becomes aroused and this is where his journey begins. He sets out on a quest from which, in all probability, there will be no return. If he does not go about it in the right way he could destroy himself and everyone involved with him.
The novel just ends and it leaves us with several unanswered questions making me think that we have not seen the last of Joe.