The second son of a noble family, James has retreated from his family’s fall from favor, finding peace at his beloved abbey. When the abbey burns to the ground, James knows his life is in ruins, and he is forced to return to the genteel world his relations still inhabit under the reign of Henry VIII.
The one good thing about James’ life outside his sanctuary is his love for Richard, who holds a dreaded high place in society. Richard’s life is also torn apart, and threatens to separate the lovers as nothing else could. When James has the chance to run away to his abbey once more, things get even more difficult. Will James be able to discover what is truly important in his life?
Review by Hayden Thorne
“Reconstruction” has all the potential for a longer work of fiction, given all the character and situational complexities that G.S. Wiley manages to stuff into a novelette. Because of the length of the published story, however, these complexities fall a bit short by way of development. The promise is clearly there, and I really hope to see Wiley expand her scope and go all out next time.
As a work of M/M fiction, “Reconstruction” is a bit unusual. Firstly, there’s no sex. A few very light touches of sensuality here and there, but there’s nothing graphic, nothing by way of paragraph after paragraph of kissing, undressing, and fucking. There might be something coy about Wiley’s approach, but it works perfectly for the story, whose focus is less about the romance, let alone the actual physical act itself. There’s no overwrought angst-ing over one’s beloved or one’s forbidden feelings or over society’s censure. The relationship’s already established, and it’s met with uncomfortable acceptance or a half-hearted blind eye from those who know about it. The characters belong to Henry VIII’s court, hence the story’s exploration of the scandalous nature of different relationships between men and women. There’s resistance, of course, from people close to James, and that resistance is also defined by an ambivalence toward the dictates of church, society, and the individual’s right to happiness.
The story is also less about James’ relationship with either Hugh or Richard. He’s torn over the choices he’s being forced to face, but his decisions aren’t completely dictated by his romance with these two men (one from his past, one from his present). “Restoration,” on the whole, is about James. Period. The story follows his progress from his spiritual to his secular life, what he desires and what he’s willing to sacrifice. To whom does he owe his allegiance? To whom does he turn for answers? For the latter question, especially, Wiley resolves James’ dilemma in a short yet beautifully-written and poignant flashback that segues nicely into the present, which makes the final passage of the story all the more vindicating.
The strength of “Reconstruction” is two-fold: Wiley’s graceful, lyrical writing style and the quiet, contemplative quality of the story. Every scene is given equal care so that the pacing slows down, but it’s necessary, given the inward-driven focus of the conflict. Readers who’re used to – or are big fans of – stories brimming with action, breathless passion, and drama might not take to “Restoration”‘s languid quality. There’s a lot of emphasis on family, both happy and unhappy, in addition to marriage (also happy and otherwise). As with James’ intimate relationships, family scenes are given quite a bit of “screen time,” which helps in creating a multi-layered world in which the conflict takes place.
That said, there are a few things that held me back. First, there’s the lack of sense descriptions. Given Wiley’s chosen period and location, it would’ve helped to have drawn the readers more deeply into James’ Tudor world with detailed descriptions of scenes as varied and colorful as a jousting tournament, a banquet held in Henry VIII’s court, a monastery, and a domestic scene. Most of the details are generalized and at times rushed, which is unfortunate. We need to be more firmly entrenched in James’ world, which would’ve given us even more reason to sympathize with him or the monks (as they’re persecuted under Henry VIII’s reign) or Thomas or any other character.
Second, the flashbacks aren’t set apart from present scenes, which can be pretty confusing to some readers, especially since the flashbacks tend to be pretty lengthy. It often took me about three paragraphs into the flashback to realize that I was reading one, which was a bit of a jolt.
Language quibbles are very minor. There are a few modern terms like “dad,” for instance, but I appreciate Wiley’s attempts at finding a balance with regard to historical accuracy in the dialogue. The farther back in history we go, the more delicate the balancing act becomes, since we can’t be too accurate in the language to the extent of sacrificing readability or flow. There’s enough of a dated and formal quality to Wiley’s prose to set the story in the 16th century without the awkward “markers” that some historical writers use in their characters’ dialogue.
“Reconstruction” is the kind of story that deserves to be expanded into a novel. What we’re given right now is the proverbial tip of the iceberg, and I really do hope that once the e-book contract expires, Wiley would work on developing this into a longer work of fiction.
Buy the book: Torquere Press