Review: Hot Valley by James LearJames Lear
Published by Cleis Press
Reviewed by Radcliff Gregory
Erotica is a notoriously difficult genre to write well, and I’ve read very little of it that satisfies me on any level. Too many erotica writers think that if they are dirty enough, no one will notice that they are extremely poor writers.
Hot Valley by James Lear is a scorcher of a novel – in every respect of the word. Deliciously dirty sex drenches the book down to its very marrow – and, if you care, it has a brilliant story holding it all together – well written enough to please even those who expect literary excellence.
The novel is set in New England, and follows the misadventures of Jack Edgerton, spoilt white brat heir of a hydropathic institution and Aaron Johnson, the freed son of a slave. They meet when the latter, an educated black man, begins work at the institution – and they are instantly attracted to each other.
Jack is the uber-hedonist, and imagines that no one back home knows the true nature of his nocturnal shenanigans across the other side of town. Being the boss’s son, he believes that he has a divine right to take anything – and anyone – he likes. Normally, his name (and handsome looks) ensure a smooth passage – in more ways than one. That all changes when he meets Aaron, a man of supreme self-control who has reformed from his sexually wayward youth because of the mortal danger of being black and queer. His life is in constant danger from the racist and homophobic lynch mobs.
The American Civil War is already rumbling in the Southern states, and soon shatters the illusions of the complacent northerners. People are losing their homes, families, fortunes, and everyone is forced take sides – whether or not they want any involvement in the war. Both Jack and Aaron have to leave the comfort of everything they know, but not before a protracted exchange of sexual tension, and their certainty that their love for each other is lost forever, without even being consummated.
Going their separate ways, both Jack and Aaron are literally sucked into the Civil War as they try to stay alive. Both find themselves embroiled in situations at odds with their desires, which, ironically, leads to their more basic desires being fulfilled – over and over again, in every way imaginable. Their respective scrapes involve numerous memorable misadventures, almost all of them sexual, of course, and a novel way of escaping a prison sentence.
Hot Valley takes the reader on a riveting journey through time, and brilliantly evokes the terrifying and liberating lawlessness of North America in 1861. Sex and loyalty, however dubious, underpins everything, and forces Jack and Aaron to learn some lessons they had never wanted to. The sizzling sex will keep you gagging for the next cock in the novel, but the painful love story will stay with you long after the double-edged climax.
Radcliff Gregory is the author of Everywhere, Except…, and the sold-out Fragile Art, and Figaro’s Cabin (under a pseudonym), and also anthologised in Chroma, Poemata, Coffee House and Poets International literary publications, and a dozen books by publishers including Crystal Clear, Forward Press and Poetry Now. Outright winner of six UK poetry competitions. Also writes non-fiction articles and essays on literary criticism, literature, disability and gender issues. Currently organising Polyverse Poetry Festival, which he founded. He also tries to find time to pull in a little PhD research at Loughborough University.