Nocturnalux's Reviews > Two Natures

Two Natures by Jendi Reiter
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really liked it
bookshelves: dbml, lgbt-fiction, american-literature, women-authors, american-literature-women

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

True to its title, Two Natures references several inherent dychotomies while at the same time challenging them. 'Reality' and 'Appearance' is perhaps the strongest axis around which the polarity is structure but also the related 'Truth' and 'Beauty' as well as 'Spiritual' and 'Carnal'. This final one is immediately present given that the time echoes the Bible, a reference that is extremely important throughout the novel.

Which such heady subject themes at its core, it would be easy to compromise the fictional mode of story telling but Two Natures avoids this entirely. The story of Julian, a young fashion photographer trying to make it in the fast and furious 90's New York environment, is not simply the vehicle through which gay rights, religious issues, the AIDS epidemic, family breakdown and queer identity are addressed: by immersing the reader fully into its well developed world, the novel conveys all this and so much in an organic manner.

This immersive quality is achieved in part thanks to a very apt usage of the first person narrative. As a photographer Julian employs highly image saturated language to frame his experiences, in a most literal sense. Visual intense descriptions punctuate the story and is the lenses through which the storytelling process happens. But these also serve to show a sense of alienation from the actual world, a pressing anxiety that haunts Julian.

The narrator's repressive, traditional Christian upbringing also factors in his means of expression, with many biblical references strewed very liberally throughout the entire novel, to the point of the title, as it has already been mentioned. The biblical imagery covers a gamut of tones, from lyrical, pensive and musing to snarky and highly cynical.

The richness of tone is present in the prose as a whole with interesting results. It ensures that Julian comes across as a rounded character. He is a very flawed person in a whole cast of flawed people, all fumbling for something to tether them amidst a chaos of easy sex and the glitter frayed with danger that is just around the corner to a gay man in the 90's.

The time period in question is a problematic one. Homosexuality is far from mainstream and it pushes Julian and most of his partners into a twilit existence of sorts in which relationships are not expected to last. The pressure is both external and internal as the club-scene culture of immediate gratification is also a force of emotional disintegration. With exclusivity being almost a myth and pick-ups are the norm, gay men find it difficult to maintain a functional relationship. And all this is compounded by the AIDS epidemic exploding with a viciousness that is made so much worse by authorities failing to provide any kind of support.

This angle of gay rights struggling to gain respectability amidst a deadly disease that was so linked with male homosexuality becomes increasingly more relevant as the plot progresses and Julian becomes entangled with an activist that while gay must hide it in order to better push for anti-poverty policies. Julian, who calls himself apolitical, approaches activism with a sense of jaded lack of conviction that provides one of the best sources of genuine friction in the whole novel.

Two Natures is in all respects very honest. It does not shy from being graphic, painful, at times horrifying, often moving, all without caring for niceties. The comprehensive scope of the endeavor has its own artistic vision, both in-universe- Julian strives to capture some form of beauty- and at a structural level as the novel is almost flawless in how it harnesses highly personal moments to turn into literature.

Ultimately, Two Natures questions the very notion of 'either/or' system: perhaps there is a way of sublimating truth into beauty, or vice-verse, and reach an integrated way of feeling in which one can be true to oneself and still find actual love. There are no guarantees but the mere possibility is enough.
This may not be for everyone. Its raw, no-frills approach may antagonize some readers but there are many who are sure to appreciate the brutal honesty, "where spit and cum are words of love."

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Reading Progress

August 25, 2016 – Started Reading
August 25, 2016 – Shelved as: to-read
August 25, 2016 – Shelved
August 28, 2016 –
page 67
August 30, 2016 –
page 87
August 30, 2016 –
page 107
August 31, 2016 –
page 148
September 1, 2016 –
page 170
September 2, 2016 –
page 198
September 2, 2016 –
page 207
September 4, 2016 –
page 245
September 4, 2016 –
page 254
September 14, 2016 – Finished Reading
May 29, 2017 – Shelved as: dbml
May 29, 2017 – Shelved as: lgbt-fiction
December 4, 2017 – Shelved as: american-literature
May 16, 2019 – Shelved as: women-authors
March 18, 2023 – Shelved as: american-literature-women

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