The Next, Rafe Haze
Publisher: Wilde City Press
Genre: Gay Fiction
Tags: Psychological, Mystery/Suspense, Romance, Contemporary
Length: 83,600 Words
Reviewer: Kazza K
Purchase At: Wilde City Press,
Perhaps protecting everyone in New York from the vitriol of my silent monologue was the biggest catalyst for my initial resistance to leave the apartment. Perhaps it became a kind of social obligation to keep them from my self-acknowledged malaise of hatred, irritation, bitterness and disappointment.
The Next’s cover states that it is “A gay Rear Window on a caffeine overload”. I don’t know about the caffeine overload, but I agree with the Rear Window comparison, as it most certainly is a contemporary gay reimagining of that terrific movie. There is the neighbour-watching by an incapacitated MC, who is never named. There is, ironically, the names he creates for his neighbours – the Princess, a beautiful young woman who can never seem to attain perfection in her own eyes no matter how beautiful she actually is. Schlongzilla the hung, gorgeous, and in-demand Brazillian massage therapist. The Couch Potatoes, a gay couple who like to watch TV together. The Beached Whale, a large lady who eats popcorn in front of her TV and seems lonely and imprisoned by her weight. The Broadway Dancer, who keeps limber and appears to have relative success from time to time. The Little old Man, who has a friend? An acquaintance? the White Mustached Black Man, who comes by and drops off tins of food and a bag of weed on a semi-regular basis in return for a small payment. He is the hardest neighbour to watch. And then there are the upwardly mobile Perfects, a lawyer and his fashionista wife, with two children, who live in a beautiful apartment directly opposite him. The Perfects are who his now ex, Johanna, has always held up as the gold standard of everything ‘relationship’ – a good looking couple with fantastic careers, lots of money, children, a house in the Hamptons, and power. There are also neighbours in his building who he has interactions with, the music playing twink above who’s floor he bangs with his broom and Mrs Abraham, his fabulous pie/food-cooking neighbour with her yappy dog, Minnie. In Manhattan, Mrs Abraham and fast food deliveries keep an agoraphobic in food and supplies.
Just before the MC is completely isolated for non-bill payments, he receives an email from his brother Paul’s neighbour to let him know his brother has died. He doesn’t even ask what happened and no information is forthcoming from the neighbour. But no matter how hard he tries to put a lid on his emotions, cracks start to form. Time passes and soon it is March, and then beyond. No music has been coming from the Twinky Tweaking Twat upstairs, no neighbour-watching has been occurring, and a detective comes to his door to see if he knows anything about the disappearance of Nathan Ridges. Who? Ah, Twinky Tweaking Twat.
From the very beginning there is a biting snark between the MC and Sergeant Marzoli, as well as humour, and a genuine connection –
He matched my dryness. “A gay man with a ‘tude. Isn’t that incredible.”
Beat. Wait. Who’s gay? He didn’t wait.
“Your place smells like a shithole.”
“Mommy’s not here to clean up.” I looked directly at his stiff starched shirt. “She’s not here to iron my shirts either, Sergeant.”
The MC has never been attracted to men before, he’s recently broken up with Johanna who left him because he is not exactly living the dream she so desperately wants to live. Where once they had their special place to eat, she had a beautiful, dreamy quality about her, and inspired his songs; her idea of ‘relationship’ has turned decidely upwardly mobile and is laid out like a spread sheet before her –
She had once been a beautiful haiku, made unfathomably profound by its very simplicity, and she inspired song after song from my feverish fingers.
But too much New York, or too much hope and too few results, or, most likely, too much proximity to me changed her. The faraway look gave way to ambitious immediacy and speed. Dreams gave way to pragmatism and steps on a ladder.
Juxtaposed against one relationship dying for him, and his lack of feelings over that, is the Next. Which is not a bad thing compared to some of his life’s Nexts. The feeing of wanting to talk to, be with, Marzoli. That he sees Marzoli as something more than a detective piquing his interest in his neighbours. That he feels an emotional and physical connection for Marzoli confounds him in on so many levels –
I had been washing my underwear in the sink that morning when I found the card Marzoli had given to me. I would call him. But why? I couldn’t place exactly what I wanted from that sergeant, but he made me…damn it…he made me yearn. But yearn for what exactly? Aside from that confusion, why for fuck’s sake would he want to return to a dump like this? To a dump like me?
Yes, the MC is angry with himself, not too fond of who he has become, and as the book progresses so too does the MC – subtly. I loved seeing Marzoli through the MC’s eyes. All the descriptions of Marzoli are of this Sicilian-Puerto Rican God. Big, strong, sexy, beautifully gym-hardened physique, square jaw with perfect stubble, younger than our forty year old MC. But the MC is also very clear to the reader – attractive, guarded and worn down, battling past demons that are now coming out to play. Somewhat rough around the edges, but a nice style of a man and protective under the layers and layers of anxiety and damage. Both men are intelligent in that street smart way. They both think like people who have seen and experienced things that no one would want to. Both are hyperaware, observant, and knowing of people’s motivating behaviours. Their wit and intellect are well suited.
Pretty soon some interesting facts emerge from the MC’s own brand of Neighbourhood Watch. Mr Perfect, aka Mr Layworth, is involved in some voyeuristic masturbation and perving on the new piano-playing twink above the MC’s apartment. Ruben is putting on a show it seems and, hey presto, Mr Perfect is beckoning him over to his apartment across the courtyard for some non-wife-sanctioned-man-on-man fucking. The MC is fascinated with the whole series of fire stairs, building and window hopping that ensues, and the tele-novella event that it becomes. The fucking inspires more voyeuristic masturbation, this time from our MC, and it is quite the kinky scene for a while. But later there is a weird situation playing out across the courtyard that involves wire cutters and excessive cleaning and hiding. What does he do with this information? Does he go to Marzoli? All he has really seen is a twink fucking the living daylights out of Mr Perfect. He is also feeling more and more broken as repressed memories are slowly resurfacing, so maybe he has imagined the rest. Plus, he was interrupted when Ruben was just leaving the Perfect’s apartment. But he left, right? However, days later, Ruben seems to be awfully quiet, he’s not walking around up there, he’s not playing his piano. It also seems Ruben’s window has been left open and when the MC pokes his head out to take a look, snow is entering the apartment. WTH?! Is Mr Perfect fucking and killing twinks? Is Mrs Perfect in on the act as well? It certainly makes for some specific neighbour observations now.
The main threads of the story are as above, the neighbours, the suspense, the relationship that develops between the MC and Marzoli. Why is Marzoli so invested in the case of someone unloved by family and ‘inconsequential’ to the state? Concerned to the point of making it his personal time project. Why is he coming back time and again to the MC when Marzoli seems so damned perfect and he is so broken? – the MC blacks out in the middle of situations or conversations as his mind goes back to his childhood and his brother, mother, father and grandfather. This is one of the strongest parts of the writing for me – the psychology – in what is already a strong book. The segues between the past and the present are seamless. The transitions thoroughly meaningful and pieced together for the reader at an excellent pace. And everything and everyone does piece together.
The Next is a hard book to do justice to in my review because I would have to write so many quotes to the point of saturation. If you want a clearer picture of the book, and the writing style, there are sixty six status updates on my Goodreads review. I can’t go into anymore detail as it is a book that is the sum total of every single word, every thought, every bit of dialogue and the (seamless) meshing of the current with the past. I do not know who Rafe Haze is, but, man, can he write! The narrative is sublime, the technical writing excellent, stylistically it is beautiful. It is so funny at times that I startled people around me laughing. The pop culture is never overdone and suited this contemporized gay version of Rear Window well. Then there are parts that tore at my core, a book that holds so much in its title – The Brothers Save Jessie…Just…goddammit…
The Next caught my attention because of the cover and the blurb. I love Rear Window, but in all honesty that made me bristle a little too, I don’t take kindly to people messing with the classics. But The Next takes it to a wonderfully modern place and adds gay / fluid characters into the mix. It is now on my favourites shelf. If you love a clever, sad, snarky, hopeful, psychological, beautifully written book with mystery/suspense. If you are open to gay/LGBT characters in your reading. If you are just as keen to read gay fiction as MM romance, and appreciate there is a difference, then I recommend The Next. The sex and affection are purposefully utilised and balanced, it is sensually erotic, however the sex is not all encompassing – but I feel one of the most touching scenes I’ve ever read occurs in this book during a sexual moment. Highly recommended.
You have to read the scene to understand the deliciousness of it all, but I’m leaving the last crazy words to Mrs. Abraham –
“Look dear,” she pointed to me. “You’re out in the hall.”