"No," said Merrick flatly as he shoved his only belonging – a toothbrush given to him by his previous guard – under the stone bed-ledge on the other side of the cell.
Well, that was a direct enough answer. Or would have been, if Tyrrell had been the type to accept 'no' for an answer.
If he had been the type to accept 'no,' he wouldn't have spent two years persuading Merrick to become his cell-mate.
"Is it because . . ." He paused, wondering how to put this delicately. Because the Magisterial Republic of Mip had originally been colonized by the two warring nations of Yclau and Vovim, cultural clashes among Mippite citizens were inevitable. It was said that even Cecelia – the great Cecelia – had been rejected by a suitor's family, which was clearly a sign of lunacy in that family. Some of the Yclau-descended folk had strange notions about maintaining the purity of their families. Anyone ethnic or foreign or darker than a pasty shade of white was considered off-limits. That would make Tyrrell extremely off-limits. "It isn't because I was born in southern Vovim, is it?"
Merrick looked annoyed. "What, do you think I have something against players?"
Tyrrell straightened his spine. Like most emigrants from Vovim, he had acted in plays from time to time. Street plays, with no props other than broken objects dug out of the local garbage heap, but they were plays just the same. "Do you?" he responded in a challenging voice.
Merrick's mouth twisted. He was busy tightening the blankets on the bed-ledge with what seemed to Tyrrell to be unnecessary thoroughness, given that they were both about to go to bed. Unless – Tyrrell brightened at the thought – Merrick intended that they use only one bed-ledge.
After a moment, Merrick said, "The Bijou. The City Opera. The Frederick.. . ."
It turned out to be a very long recital. Tyrrell was impressed. "You've been to all the theaters in this city?"
"All the theaters in the whole of eastern Mip." Merrick mumbled the words.
"Gods preserve us – that many?"
Merrick glared at his blanket. "Does it matter? I've spent plenty of time with players. Let's move on to more important subjects."
Tyrrell hated to think what Merrick's idea was of an important subject. Probably how to strangle all the guards at Mercy Life Prison. He asked, "Is it because I'm short?"
Merrick sighed as he turned toward Tyrrell. "Look," he said, "you could be six feet tall, with dashing dark eyes, and skin a delicious shade of sepia—"
Tyrrell began to tick off in his mind which men in the prison fit this description.
"—and I still wouldn't fuck you. I'm just not interested in doing that. Not with you. Not with anyone here."
"Married?" Tyrrell asked sympathetically. So many men in the prison were, or had left behind love-mates, male or female, when they were convicted of their crimes and sent to spend the rest of their lives in Mercy Prison.
Merrick's gaze turned toward the flagstoned floor. "Hell."
"You don't have to swear at me," said Tyrrell reproachfully.
"I'm not swearing. I'm praying to Hell to rise up and kidnap you to his domain so that I won't have to continue this conversation. Look—"
And suddenly his voice was low, as low as it had been when he had finally made the amazing declaration that he would submit a formal request to his guard that he be transferred to Tyrrell's cell. So Tyrrell held his breath, because he knew that Merrick was never low-voiced – never, never, never – unless he was saying something that cost him a great deal to say.
Syd McGinley gifted me with Volume Two of the Dr. Fell series, and I saved it up as a Christmas present for myself. Without giving away too much of th...moreSyd McGinley gifted me with Volume Two of the Dr. Fell series, and I saved it up as a Christmas present for myself. Without giving away too much of the plot to anyone who hasn't read Volume One, I can say that this is BDSM domestic fiction. (One chapter is entitled "Curtain Fic.") The novel starts where most romance novels end: with the unsettling details of trying to get along with someone you live with day after day.
"Being a top really is a deeper submission," the top narrator comments at one point. A lot of that can be attributed to the boy whom the top has chosen.
"I love you, John Fell, and I want what's best for you. Especially when you don't know what that is."
I kiss him and grumble, "Remember who the top is here, boy."
[He] smiles sweetly. "Just trying to anticipate your needs, sir."
The novel sees Dr. Fell slowly getting his life straightened out, with the help of his boy . . . and a couple of female authority figures.
She inspects the thermometer while I control a pout.
"One-oh-one. Better than it was. Stay right there. I'll get you some soup."
One-oh-one – introduction to pneumonia. I snigger. Oh man. I'm losing it. Oooh, my soup is full of stars! I'm sorry . . . I'm afraid I can't do that.
"Eat your chicken and stars, Johnny. Don't just stare at it."
I blink. Mama P is sitting on the end of the bed, waiting.
It tastes funny, but I eat it all obediently. Mama P takes the bowl and asks if I want the TV on. Shit, it's been moved it into the bedroom while I was asleep. I growl. I truly hate TV in the bedroom.
Mama P just laughs. "I want you to stay sitting up for awhile, Johnny. You'll breathe easier, and besides, your tummy is full." She turns on the TV and hands me the remote. "Now relax. I'll be right back."
I do not throw the remote at her, but I deliberately find a kids' show to sulk through. That bites me in the ass as I end up cackling at a sponge wearing shorts.
As with Volume One, there is a wonderfully authentic flavor to the stories about Dr. Fell, leaving aside his magical ability to turn up lubricant on any occasion. "I like being able to stash lube wherever I want it" is the way he blandly puts it at one point. At least he draws the line at using engine grease when he and his boy set out to reenact Lube Jobs and Grease Monkeys 2.
The only mildly irritating aspect of the novel is that it began as a series of separately published stories, which weren't edited at the novel stage to take out the repetition, so the reader is told the same backstories several times. On the other hand, the stories' overlapping timelines are part of the book's charm. And the novel has humor and it has mainly-outdoors sex and it has poignant moments, especially in the chapters "Teacher's Pet" and "Back in the Day." What more could one want from an erotic love story?
A group of rich masters swap their leatherboys back and forth with cheerful abandon. Then one master meets an arrogant boy who needs to be taken down...moreA group of rich masters swap their leatherboys back and forth with cheerful abandon. Then one master meets an arrogant boy who needs to be taken down a few knotches.
I have to admit that this trope – which was first popularized in the late 1970s through Mr. Benson, by John Preston, who in turn stole much of his material from earlier writers – is not my favorite BDSM storyline. Maybe it's because I'm such a realist that I expect the masters to be arguing over which master's protocol the boys should follow.
Syd McGinley, though, has done what I would have thought impossible: The Complete Dr. Fell, Volume 1: Lost (which was donated to me by the author) is a realistic version of this trope. It's not only realistic, but it retains Preston's admirable mixture of humor and pathos.
McGinley's novel actually reminds me more closely of Preston's I Once Had a Master, which Preston based on episodes in his own life. Unlike Mr. Benson, which nobody could describe as realistic (with the possible exception of the chapter set in the Mineshaft bar), I Once Had a Master sought to mold porn fantasy into something that could pass as literary fiction. McGinley has done the same. Amidst all the unlikely erotic passages – a cock ring made of hollies? – the novel addresses such topics as domestic abuse, immigration laws, illiteracy, and Robert's Rules of Order. "Jesus, he's spent too long in corporate land," the narrator says of another character. "I mean, it is important to discuss who is having what mark put on which boy, but do we really need a fucking agenda?"
In addition, to my very great relief, the dominant who narrates the story is not rich.
Dr. John Fell is an engaging protagonist: a scholarly curmudgeon who has a soft spot for abused and ill-trained leatherboys. I can't say that I agree with every decision he makes, not to mention his propensity for thrashing bare flesh with wild plants. (I winced during those passages, since I'm allergic to just about everything I touch in my garden.) But that's entirely the point: this is no Mr. Benson, no idealization of an infallible master. Instead, Dr. Fell is struggling with a personal demon: an inability to move beyond a past tragedy, which inhibits his relations with others.
Fortunately, he is surrounded by a loving and supportive community. (Dr. Fell describe this as a D/s group, though it reads to me as M/s, since all of the group's boys are owned and appear to have little say on how their lives are led.) Many BDSM stories zero in on a sexual pairing, leaving the reader with the impression that there's a solid wall between BDSM partners and the rest of the world. McGinley's approach is refreshingly different, presenting a network of BDSM relationships, and even hinting at what is taking place in the vanilla world. (The passage where Dr. Fell doms his students during a writing exercise is particularly amusing.)
Although Dr. Fell frequents a leather bar (how he got past the doorman before he bought himself a leather jacket is left an unanswered question), there's not much gay leather culture in the novel. On the other hand, there's a strong enough gay atmosphere that one doesn't feel that McGinley has stolen the plotline from yaoi manga. (In a tongue-in-cheek sequence, McGinley portrays a boy as harboring such manga.) Although the characters – in another realistic touch – range from bear to effeminate, Dr. Fell himself is very much a product of masculine culture: "We're saved from having to do awkward macho congratulations," he reports at one point. Thanks to the first-person narration, we get to witness his inner turmoil, but only occasionally are the other characters granted a glimpse of what lies behind his forbidding countenance.
The novel begins a bit awkwardly, with Dr. Fell subduing a recalcitrant submissive by sheer force and, it might be added, no condom. (The characters' attitudes toward condomless anal sex are frustratingly inconsistent; at one point, a boy prepares contributions for an AIDS foundation mere hours before barebacking another dom's boy.) In a wonderful divergence from the Mr. Benson tradition, however, the submissive turns out to be not quite subdued after all: "irrepressible" is how the long-suffering narrator describes him.
The next story in the novel takes a darker turn, and the author shows considerable skill at mixing tragedy with comedy.
Alas, McGinley, like most other BDSM writers, is better at describing naked bodies than at describing the characters' surroundings. Usually, I try not to quibble over such matters, but it's hard for me to believe that a Renaissance scholar who carries around a volume with phrases like this—
The canker blooms have full as deep a dye As the perfumed tincture of the roses, Hang on such thorns, and play as wantonly When summer's breath their masked buds discloses . . .
—would proceed to describe his surroundings in this manner: "I throw myself into winterizing the cabin: chop lots of wood, finish up roof repairs, install storm windows, and seal gaps in the wooden walls." There is precious little visual detail in the novel, and virtually no smells, tastes, senses of touch, or sounds (other than dialogue). This is a shame, because the novel, being primarily set in one location, could easily have provided the reader with some sensory hint of why the narrator so much enjoys living in the woods. One passage in particular suggests that Dr. Fell has a certain affinity with Thoreau: "I have few possessions: a laptop, sweats and jeans, a box of books. I believe luxury comes from attention to detail, not possessions."
What few descriptions of the cabin exist are slipped into the narrative in a natural manner, usually because one boy or another is doing domestic work. While the novel doesn't scrimp on scenes of sex and SM, McGinley is one of the few BDSM writers who seems to have grasped that doms occasionally emerge from their bedrooms and dungeons. The primary focus of the novel is on nonsexual training as Dr. Fell provides the boys with opportunities to expand their skills.
And not just the boys.
Twink slams in. "Dr. Fell, Laurie says he needs a doctor."
"A real one, not some PhD," hollers Laurie from the porch.
Twink and Dexter suck their breath in unison. I give them my cold smile.
"You two find something to do in the kitchen. I'll be busy for awhile."
Laurie is on the porch, unrepentant. His ass is a mess, but twink has done a good job of cleaning it. He looks me straight in the eye. I know a challenge when I see one.
I shut the door behind me. Laurie keeps his head held high.
"What the fuck are you up to, boy? Is your ass not sore enough?"
I can see tears glistening in his eyes, and I realize it's all bravado and he wants me out here in private.
He shakes his head. "I'm so scared, Dr. Fell. What I'm going to need is too much."
I stand next to him by the railing and put an arm around him. I've only touched to punish so far, and he whimpers in surprise.
"I don't think so, boy. Only if you fight it."
His back is rigid under my arm, and then after a second he starts to tremble.
"Stop being so proud. You know I need to bring you low before you learn better ways. But if you understand and work with me, it's easier."
I get a small sob from him, and then he puts his head on my shoulder and weeps.
"Why doesn't sir do that for me? He just ignores me; he doesn't care if I'm struggling."
"He sent you here."
He's still sobbing, and I'm rubbing his back gently.
"I know, but he never controls me, and he's having you do it, not him. I know it was wrong to use the credit card. I didn't even buy stuff I wanted."
I hide a sigh. Training Doms is much harder than training boys, but it's Laurie's doctor who is the real problem. Laurie is still babbling and his sad little remarks about how being a doctor's boy is lonely and boring confirm my thoughts. Poor Laurie. He, as I suspect are several of the group's boys, is a trophy sub. Cute, outwardly obedient, and bored out of his skull while his rich owner works on staying rich and not on being an owner.