When, after several years away from the page, Genevieve Dupont ventures into a poetry class at Chicago’s downtown library, she falls hard for Jonathan Waters, a classmate whose intimate verses climb right under her skin. Certain that under his tutelage, and in his arms, she can become the poet she yearns to be, Genny pursues this “Mountain Man” with abandon. But the secret behind his elusiveness tears her apart, and his treachery doesn’t end there.
Mary Gray Kaye’s A Winged Thing, and Holy promises a drama-filled romance enhanced by the poetry sure to permeate her prose. Though the prose exceeds expectations, the novel overall is a bit of a letdown. The main characters, Genny and Jon, are both at precipices in their poetic and personal lives, but these emotional conflicts present on the page as general discomfort with only a vague idea of objective. It is unclear, even through the thickest moments of their physical relationship, whether Genny is attracted to Jon or to his poetry, and Jon’s emotions seem to fluctuate between amusement, annoyance, and ardor with every new paragraph. Both characters remain in the same developmental funk, circling and wandering, making fleeting efforts at progress but rarely moving forward.
Peripheral characters are similarly fuzzy. Genny is all too aware that her boyfriend, Brian, is merely a prop in her life, and he reads as such until he is dismissed halfway through the novel. Her coworker, Deets, could be gay, could be a potential love interest, but is developed no further than as a sounding board for Genny’s angst. Same with her little sister, Denise, whose cookie-cutter, fairy-tale romance and wedding provide a nice contrast to Genny’s disastrous love life, but offer little else. These characters and others float in and out of the story like confetti; from far off they make an exciting scene, but it’s impossible to get a good look at any one element.
The plot suffers the same illusion—bright, bold, but directionless as Genny floats in a swirl of dissatisfaction with work, romance, and poetry. She begins class after class, but we rarely hear about more than one session; she doggedly pursues Jon despite her frequent, active discomfort in his presence and, though they dip in and out of lust, their relationship makes very little progress before, tormented, Genny unearths Jon’s secret.
Furthermore, the reader is aware of every plot twist long before it happens—forays into Jon’s point of view reveal the true identity of his muse and, as for the earth-shattering scandal that, five pages from the end of the book, finally rockets Genny into action, well, that’s outlined in the flap copy. Ultimately, there is very little in the way of promise or suspense to keep readers invested in this dalliance.
All that said, it is clear from her prose that Mary Gray Kaye, a local author, is skilled in poetry as she often creates wonderfully evocative renderings of Genny’s emotions and surroundings; even her day-to-day outfits become luscious in Kaye’s carefully woven language. And, though much of Chicago feels a bit scattered in the novel, Kaye’s Lake Michigan is just as majestic on the page as it is in person.
The fuzzy characters and disoriented plot of A Winged Thing, and Holy would benefit from some serious refocusing, but what the novel lacks in organization it more than makes up for in the dynamic grace of Kaye’s poetry.
October 2013, self-published (with assistance by noisivelvet)
$15.00, paperback, 251 pages
—Reviewed by Sarah Weber