Psychological thriller? Dark academia? Queer stereotyping? Whatever way we choose to categorize Micah Nemerever’s These Violent Delights, it’s fair to say, simply, this book was unputdownable! Many are comparing it to Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life, but I’m not sure where that comes from except for the general similarities in gay protagonists and the presence of domestic violence/partner abuse. However, even that latter comparison is questionable.
I’m not sure where to begin with this novel. It’s uncomfortable. It’s complicated. And so much of the story is left beneath the surface. The primary complaint I’ve read about this one, via Goodreads reviews, is that it’s often (almost always) impossible to understand how these two main characters, Paul and Julian, feel about each other. I will admit to being frustrated by this as well, although I do think it’s partly explainable through analysis of their relationship. Paul and Julian, too, are unsure about how they feel or how their relationship is supposed to work. Slowly, we begin to understand that Julian is less unsure, but we get much of our view through a third-person narrator who is typically closer to Paul’s perspective, and Paul is an absolute mess. It’s impossible to understand anything clearly if we’re seeing it through his eyes.
The plot itself is a rather simple one. Paul and Julian both come from broken families, though Paul himself seems to be psychologically damaged in a way that is separate from his family life. He is a murderous individual and these tendencies can’t be explained away by his father’s death or his mother’s absence. Julian, on the other hand, has two overbearing parents who want to control his life and set him on a path he has no interest in. In Paul, he finds someone he thinks is strong and who can help him, Julian, break free. To achieve that, though, he seems to accept that he’ll need to become a kind of physical outlet for Paul and to lead Paul to his ultimate satisfaction: getting away with murder. To me, Julian is easier to empathize with, particularly as the story unfolds, because despite appearances, it’s his feelings that seem most genuine and human, and his motives that seem explainable. He is emotionally damaged, and he is desperate, but he is not a maniac. That said, he does enable a maniac, and how can we forgive this?
I’m always concerned with gay storylines that seem to reinforce typical queer literature stereotypes and dangerous tropes, like glorifying violence or explaining homosexuality as mental illness, etc. These Violent Delights gets uncomfortably close to this, but the story is unique enough, in my opinion, and contemporary enough, to succeed anyway. In my mind, it’s wholly possible to interchange characters of other sexes or genders, or sexualities, and still see how this story could unfold this way. While I wish there was a little bit more to love in one or both of these characters, and at least some joy to be found somewhere in the story, I have to admit that that simply wasn’t the point of this one, and it’s no use being annoyed that the protagonists are so melodramatic or the plot so dark, when both of those are what makes the story what it is and was meant to be. Ultimately, the novel is a success because it is what it is what it intended to be and achieves what it sets out to do.
Also, the final line is devastating.