Book Reviews

Love, the Magician by Brian Bouldrey at ReQueered Tales

Genre Gay / Historical / Recent (1990s) / Fiction
Reviewed by ParisDude on 19-March-2021

Book Blurb

In April of 1997, Tristan Broder makes a pilgrimage of sorts from San Francisco to the prickly desert and scalped mountains around Tucson, Arizona, the place where he helped bury his partner Joe five years before. Guided by a comet that crossed the spring sky that year, he wanders toward renewal and resurrection, memory and mystery, deadly secrets and dark intentions.

There are plenty of people in the desert who still love Tristan as much as they did Joe. There’s Maria, Joe’s wild sister, now a converted Pentecostal; her truck-driving husband Earl; Joe’s mother with the dog Murphy she found one day abandoned in the desert; and Joe’s best friend Mik, a tough-minded Punjabi Muslim whose one vanity is his long silken hair. With open and glad hearts, they join Tristan to help him make a memorial to the whole-souled man he loved. Yet, despite the fact that they are all bound, like Tristan, by the memory and love for the saint who once lived among them, every one of them is hiding something.



First edition published by Southern Tier Editions, January 2000. This new edition includes a foreword by Miriam Wolf and a new introduction by the author.


Book Review

There are books that grab your heart and don’t let go, leaving behind lingering sensations that are hard to shake off. This was one of those reading experiences. Maybe it was a mere mood thing, maybe I’m simply exhausted and didn’d need much prodding, but ‘Love, the Magician’ had me almost in tears more than once. It doesn’t even tell an exceedingly sad tale—serious, for sure, but not necessarily gloomy or depressing. Yet the subject matter combined with the exquisite writing left me shaken and moved.


The story, recalling the unity of time, place, and persons of the Greek tragedies of old, takes place over an Easter weekend in Tucson, at the end of the 1990s. Tristan Broder, whose lover and life partner Joe has died of AIDS four years before, comes to visit Joe’s mother, sister, and brotherlike best friend Mik. What is perceived like a sort of pilgrimage by Joe’s “relatives” turns out to be something else altogether for Tristan himself. He seems to have overcome his grief and has reached the stage where he is more angry than sad; but he won’t let anger dictate his life, either.


The best words to describe his emotional state would be aimless, anchorless, unmoored, unsettled. He is seropositive as well, but while that diagnosis was a death sentence in the past—not least for the man he loved, Joe—it has become a mere long-term health issue after the introduction of combination therapy. As long as he doesn’t forget to take his daily pills, Tristan knows he will be fine and in good health—his pills being that “theoretical health, like a cellopahane keeping fresh the real goods of real health.” He will live. And that’s what has thrown his whole life into disorder much more thoroughly than his lover’s death. Tristan thought he wouldn’t need to bother thinking about money, a career, a home, a new relationship maybe, because he was certain he wouldn’t have long. Now that he guesses he might live for many more years, he seems unable to find meaning, sense, a direction, not even the feeling of being home somewhere—as the author writes in his foreword, “neither Tristan Broder, nor I, ever really returned, for there was no home to return to.”

Tristan isn’t helped by Joe’s releatives. They have built a shrine to their dead son, brother, best friend, not only in real life—Joe’s mother has transformed Joe’s grave into some sort of lush Garden of Eden in the middle of the desert—but also virtually, in their lives, and they disapprove, each one with their own means of expressing it, of Tristan’s seeming indifference. They weren’t there to share the last, painful moments with Joe, they cannot comprehend the emotional bond the two men had created; they try very hard not to judge, but despite their best efforts, they can’t help it, they do.


Tristan must cope alone with the strange position he is assigned: that of the person who should outwardly be the most affected but who comes across as queer (pardon the poor pun), unfeeling, clumsy, more interested in watching the odd Easter proceedings in the Yaqui reservation in Tucson than visiting his late lover’s tomb or revisiting the past with mother, sister, and bestie. Memories bubble up wherever he goes, but communication with the others around him seems to become more and more an impossibility. Tristan is unable to express what he is going through and doesn’t want to disclose his last, essential secret—his seropositivity—because he feels it would give the virus too strong a hold on him, too much importance. At the same time, he knows the guilt he is feeling himself—survivor’s guilt—would turn to blame in the eyes of Joe’s relatives.


A book about loss, grief, mourning, bereavement, and the emptiness and dullness of the afterwards. I cannot pretend I understood all of Tristan’s actions and reactions—he was indeed a strange character, which made him all the more human in my eyes. The symbolisms woven into the narrative were strong and engaging—the weird, only vaguely Catholic saints of the Latino population, the even stranger Easter rites of the Yaqui tribe, the shrine-like garden Joe’s mother has erected on her son’s tomb, which Tristan visits once and the exact site of which he is unable to find afterwards, Mik’s almost arrogant mutism and righteousness, Tristan’s clumsiness… Above all, I was drawn in by Brian Bouldrey’s relentless, probing, piercing prose, his way of circling around anecdotes, leaving them suspended, then bringing them to a tell-tale finale later on in the story.


I felt for Tristan all through the book, wanted to hold him in my arms, and tell him he had the right to feel the way he felt. I also was Tristan, and then I was taking turns being Joe, and Joe’s mom, sister, best friend… maybe that’s what made me so teary-eyed. We don’t always understand why a good piece of good writing moves us; perhaps we don’t need to understand; perhaps we’re not even meant to understand. Whatever. A very powerful text, a real piece of literature, which I highly recommend.





DISCLAIMER: Books reviewed on this site were usually provided at no cost by the publisher or author. This book has been provided by ReQueered Tales for the purpose of a review.


Additional Information

Format ebook
Length Novel, 229 pages
Heat Level
Publication Date 01-December-2020
Price $5.95 ebook
Buy Link