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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

SPORE book review

SPORE, A Novel By Thom Nickels
Thom Nickels
Weekly Press

Wed, Oct 27, 2010
Review by Jackie Atkins

Down by the Southern Point in New Jersey people search for a Cape May diamond; religiously you can find them scouring the Sunset Beach sands for that one pebble that can be cleaned and polished and presented on your ring finger as a make believe opal. Many have gone blind or died before finding one, but usually they give up the chase and buy it in a trinket shop on the promenade.

Independent small presses offer the same titillating experience to an incorrigible reader, with even less of an opportunity to find a diamond in the rough novel. More often than not an unsuspecting bookworm buys from a small press and ends up thinking he is reading in Braille without having a handicap.

Before people who wish to discover a good read run off to Amazon to find a Kindle ready book on the bestseller list, they should try inspecting Spore by Thom Nickels from Starbooks Press. While some of the editing in the book is questionable, the end result needs very little polishing to be a readable gem.

This is Philadelphia author Nickels’ ninth novel. All but four of his previous eight have been fictions centering on the gay lifestyle.

However, this one is in a category all to itself. It is a part mystical, semi-biographical fantasy bordering on a sci-fi thriller.

Dennis, a young architect, is marrying Catherine because the pickings for his homosexual desires are getting slimmer. Naturally, this reason leads to a failed relationship, but it doesn’t take Dennis long to figure this out. On the limo drive to the reception, Dennis has his doubts about his commitment to Catherine and by the time the couple arrives in Hawaii for their honeymoon, Dennis has had liaisons with a bell hop in L.A., a boy on a beach, and his house host (a former lover of his from Philadelphia).

Then released from all realms bounding him to a real world, Dennis goes on his warpath when his wife leaves him two days after their arrival on the islands. Dennis becomes the antithesis of Terry Southerns’ "Candy," and instead of wanting to help others by using his body, he proceeds to help himself through the use of other peoples’ bodies.

After his Hawaii big adventure, Dennis returns to his native Philadelphia and begins to take his journey into denial and fulfillment from peep show adventures to bus stop pickups.
If Spore stayed on this path we would have one more boilerplate sexual fantasy, but Nickels skillfully guides the reader through Dennis’ flawed physiological makeup.

So self-absorbed is Dennis that Nickels has him midway through the book take on the mantle of preacher merely to exonerate himself of a possible murder attempt charge on his great aunt.
As Dennis wanders throughout the streets of Philadelphia, his journey toward self-fulfillment twists and turns, and he is surrounded with images of street toughs battling for turf by preying on homosexual victims—and with the presence of an insidious germ infecting people from all walks of life. This virus takes the form of a growth, which is shaped like a broccoli spear that disfigures its victims. Dennis is quick to claim that this menace will afflict all those who do not act on their latent sexual desires. Dennis preaches this even though he himself has contacted the ailment. But this contradiction, as with all of Dennis’ other ones, only make the reader question Dennis’ sanity.

Dennis, in the course of the novel, is disloyal to his wife, his best friend and lover, and his beloved great aunt. He even shows fickleness to the people who have put their faith in him as a prophet. In the end, though, his message of self-preservation and personal fulfillment only works against Dennis, and he saves the ultimate abandonment of all hope for the weary by granting himself his final betrayal.

Thom Nickels has been an inveterate Philadelphia writer since the early eighties. His columns and reviews have appeared in various publications over the years. With Spore he has managed to come out of the gay world press and has emerged into a greater crossover market.
Nickels skillfully reveals Dennis to us in thin layers with each facet of his personality piled on top of one another, until you feel you are not reading about a one-dimensional neurotic sex bumpkin, but a genuine person who is still too immature to find his way. Nickels makes Dennis, despite all his flaws, lovable.

Retreating to Hawaii in the final pages of Spore, Dennis writes to his great Aunt Gertie, the one he tried to drown, and tells her he will return to Philadelphia one day to fight for "tolerance and justice." Hurry back, Dennis, Armageddon can’t start without you.

Spore is published by Starbooks Press and is available for $16.95.

Thom Nickles will have a reading of Spore on November 5, 2010 at the Barnes and Noble book store, Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia, PA at 6:30 p.m.

Jackie Atkins lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Cape May, New Jersey.
She has been the art critic for The Key to Philadelphia.
Currently she writes for Seven Mile Island Publications, which publishes the Sea Isle Times and the Seven Miles News, and is regular contributor to the arts and culture commentary website Broad Street Review.

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