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Vinton Rafe McCabe

Vinton Rafe McCabe is an award-winning poet and a produced playwright with more than thirty years experience in print and electronic journalism. He has produced television for PBS and has hosted his own radio talk show. In addition to his first novel, Death in Venice, California, McCabe has just completed work on a second novel, Glossolalia.

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"An engaging allegorical pursuit of the mirage that is beauty's transcendence."

– Kirkus

The storytelling is consistently assured, the parallels to the sublime model serve McCabe's ends admirably-nothing gratuitous about them-and the whole hangs together, delivering its punch squarely. This is a well done piece."

– Luke Sherwood

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Death in Venice, California

With A Twist

07/07/14

Retelling a classic novel is about fashioning the story in a way that holds true to the original, but that adds a new spin on it. Death in Venice, California by Vinton Rafe McCabe did just that. Disclosure: I received a copy of it for review from the publisher.

I’ve observed three perspectives a reader might come from when reading a retelling such as this: blind ignorance, a depth of understanding, or a vague remembrance.

In my case, I came from two of these perspectives. I didn’t remember reading Death in Venice by Thomas Mann (first published in 1912). I wanted to make sure I knew what I was reading, if, in fact it was a modern retelling of a well-known literary story. I decided to check my Goodreads account. Lo and behold, it was there. I had read it in 2011 for my mini book group (MBG por vida) where we read only novellas. I wondered why I hadn’t remembered it. After checking the book out from the library I decided to flip to the latter half of the book. Ah! I did remember this book. What I remembered most about it was a sort of comic view of the narrator hiding under a towel with a hat on his head so he could spy on a beautiful young man while on the beach.

In fact, I remembered this vividly because my book club, from time to time, will dress up as characters from the novellas we are reading. One of the members brought a beach towel and a hat to illustrate how the narrator might have looked. McCabe’s version of the story used similar tactics of comic relief to offset the overall story of the destruction of desire and obsession.

One of the more comical parts of McCabe’s story was when the main character, Jameson Frame, reluctantly goes along with getting a tattoo: “Frame looked down at his leg, expecting to sees a massive wound. Instead, he saw what looked like a short line, as if a child with a pen had drawn on his skin.” He isn’t able to withstand the pain so instead of getting the word “vinsible” he gets the letter ‘V’ which he says stands for Venice so he can remember his trip in the future. I couldn’t imagine Aschenbach, Mann’s original main character, getting such a tattoo, and this gave me a fuller perspective on the story while making me feel in on the joke. Though, it is unnecessary for one to have read the original to understand McCabe’s novel.

This present-day telling in a stream of consciousness-style narrative pulled me in much quicker than Mann’s original. I enjoyed McCabe’s modern day take on a not so modern narrator. Frame is a writer who buys his first laptop on vacation and has had some success as a poet. His well-known book of poetry gets him noticed on the airplane on his way to his destination, and again in the hotel where he is staying. Frame is a proper middle-aged man who likes order and routine. A vacation to Venice Beach disrupts that and opens up a whole new world to him. I was genuinely interested in Frame’s purported aimless vacationing and was happy to go along for the ride.

Because of this attitude he meets some interesting people. Vera and Elsa become his closest companions and, thinking they know what is best for Frame, set him up for his ultimate demise. One of their early meetings includes a tarot card reading where the card of The Hanged Man reveals some truths about Frame. Of this Vera says, “So, we begin with an enigma of sorts, a man, like the card, who does not fit the usual pattern.” Vera goes on to tell him that the card indicates great change and that he also doubles as a fool on a different card in the deck. This sets us up for the rest of the story. Elsa and Vera introduce Frame to Chase, a beautiful tattooed youth only too willing to play on Frame’s desires and vulnerabilities. The reader then sees Frame make foolish decisions based on lust and a wish to be young again.

McCabe adds a fresh touch to an old classic, in part because he was able to write about homosexuality openly, and in doing so shows how gay literature has changed for the better over the years. After all, he is retelling a story that some consider the first work of gay literature in modern, Western culture. More than that, this is a story of obsession and its destructive nature.

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