Testosterone - James Robert Baker
Well, where to startÖ. Usually, if I have a novel and a movie based on it, I always watched the movie first then read the book. I think the books have more depth, and the movies can sometimes seem bland in comparison. So, thatís the way I tackled these: movie Testosterone, then this book.
Well, I neednít have bothered. To say that the movie Testosterone came from this book is like saying Baa Baa Black Sheep came from Silence of the Lambs.
I donít think Iíve read a book that f***** with my mind more. Itís so angry. Weíve read Tim and Pete, also by Baker and found that pretty shocking. This goes way beyond that one.
The only thing that the movie and book have in common is that there are two men, Dean and Pablo. Pablo goes out for cigarettes one night and doesnít come back. Dean sets out to find him.† From that point on the two diverge and become utterly different tales.
In his search to find Pablo, Dean drives along dictating into tapes, which we are then reading the later transcript of. Itís all written in the first person and in the present tense, except for lots of parts where he backtracks to fill in storyline. The whole time heís snorting speed and other substances to fuel his rage, and to read it is rather like being strapped into a chair and subjected to the raving fantasies of a paranoid schizophrenicÖ except that you DO have the option to put this book down and stop reading. So, why didnít IÖ?
I got sucked in.
I wanted to dig down to the bottom of this manís madness and find out whether he really is mad or whether itís that all around him are insane. In that, this is like the movie. I wanted to watch on and see where Pablo was, why he did what he did.
This book isnít easy to read. It contains some very disturbing descriptions of animal torture. The characters are bitter and full of anger. Thereís not a redeeming person in the whole story. But I still read on.
Iím totally ambivalent about the ending (which is very different to the ending of the movie). Iím not sure whether Dean is insane, whether what he finds out about Pablo is true, or whether Iím just not astute to differentiate between madness and truth.
And given that, I have to concede that this book is a work of disturbing genius.
This novel† takes place over a frenetic 24 hours, as Dean Seagrove drives around LA looking for his Ďemotional serial killerí ex-boyfriend, Pablo Ortega, who he holds responsible for the fire that destroyed his house.†
The story takes the form of a series of tapes sent by Dean to Baker, the writer, dictated mostly from his car.† This gives an immediacy that sucks you in to Deanís paranoid world, just like being there in the back seat.† The timeline shifts around, as gradually the truth about Pablo unravels.† Or at least Pablo as seen by Dean: a monster akin to a vampire, who uses unsuspecting men like Dean, turning them into victims, obsessive rejects who crave more of Pabloís beautiful Latino body while hating him for their need.
In the movie version (I refuse to say adaptation when it bears little resemblance to Bakerís book) weíre often told how obsessed Dean is with his ex-lover, but never shown why.† The book is clear:† the sex was amazing.† But Dean wanted more than great sex.† Commitment, monogamy, a future growing old together.† Pablo went out for cigarettes one day, and never returned.
Dean is Ďone angry queerí.† He may be gay, but heís violent as any straight guy.† He has homicidal feelings and fantasies.† Movie references like Fatal Attraction and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia tell us this isnít going to be pretty.† Yet Dean isnít sure whether he wants to kill Pablo or ravish him.†
Dean turns detective.† Pablo left a string of lovers who add to the evidence against him.† Pablo worked in a pathology lab.† Why was he let go?† What about stories of his involvement in a sinister cult characterised by animal and possibly human sacrifice?† Is it true he cursed Dean?† And what does he know about the death of Deanís dog?† Can Dean trust the testimony of damaged and drugged out individuals with their own reasons to hate Pablo?† Dean isnít exactly a reliable narrator.† Heís tweaked out on speed and other illegal substances, plus antidepressants, so his grip on reality might be slack.† Maybe heís the crazy one and Pablo the innocent victim.† Dean was possessive and heí s prone to dangerous outbursts of rage.† Itís wonderfully complex, and very involving stuff.
Dean believed he and Pablo were monogamous, though Pablo was a self-confessed sex addict.† Dean finds out Pablo never stopped going to tearooms while they were together.† So heís worried about HIV.† Should he take the test?† Dean is depressed to see gay kids cruising, despite choices his generation never had for places to meet to get to know men as more than an anonymous dick in a gloryhole.† Thereís lots of detail on LA gay life, cruising grounds, like the sex club that does early bird specials and offers HIV+ orgies.† Dean is a romantic looking for love and commitment.† Yet heís as excited as any hotblooded gay man by the thrill of hot casual sex.† What he says is contradicted by his actions.† Pablo isnít the only sexual compulsive.† He admits itís the sex he misses.† That he always had doubts about Pablo.
Baker had strong opinions on gay life, sexuality and health.† His characters are angry, contaminated by fallout from AIDS.† They mourn the world theyíve lost, but refuse to be victims and they fight back.† But deciding to kill Pablo is definitely an extreme reaction to rejection.† I liked Dean, felt sympathy towards him.† As he hurtles towards possible confrontation with Pablo I didnít know what I wanted the outcome to be.† Itís an exciting book, frequently disturbing, very hard to put down.† Itíll mess with your head, but you wonít regret the experience.† It is far better than the movie.† Though I did picture Dean as the sexy actor in the film.† Read it if you dare.
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