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Richard Eder

The Aerodynamics of Pork by Patrick Gale (Dutton: $15.95; 185 pp.)

July 19, 1987|Richard Eder

When I was a child, I was sent off one summer to a kind of vest-pocket proprietary camp run by an amiable couple in late middle age. The amiability was all right--I had a pretty good time, in fact--but there were one or two shadows. The darkest one was the insistence of the wife, a massive, craggy-jawed person, that we call her Auntie Tinker-Bell.

Something of the same insistence emanates from Patrick Gale's novel. "The Aerodynamics of Pork" is a splendid title, one that seems to promise wackiness carried to a reckless extreme. The book wears it like a purloined helmet; it is a steadily whimsical affair with a preachy soft center and a curdling message.

Gale is an English writer in his 20s. That does not sound old, but it is old for Peter Pan. His book consists of a clutch of fey characters of the kind that J. M. Barrie--himself no mean hand at fey--knew far better than to allow to grow up. His Never-Neverland is a pedophile's Eden; where a homosexual schoolboy crush is conducted with the enthusiastic help of the teachers.

The setting is not a school, in fact, but a music festival--another proprietary affair--organized by the erratic and well-heeled Peake family on their Cornwall estate.

The central figure is Seth Peake, 15 years old, interestingly pale and a violin prodigy. He is universally favored and knows it; when he buys a violin string at a music store, he puts the proprietor firmly in his place as an overly familiar member of the tradesman class.

His mother, Evelyn, who runs the festival, dotes upon him. She is an aging relic from the 1960s liberal-left (Seth and his sister, Venetia are Thatcherite right)--and a flower child gone to seed. She leads children's music-appreciation classes by dancing to Bach's Mass in B-Minor and chanting "Happy Happy Happy" at the Gloria. Seth's father, Huw, is consistently absent, though he turns up in another context and in another part of the story. Venetia is a sophisticated and apparently dissolute member of the bright college set. In fact, like the other characters, she has major sexual uncertainties.

Hers consists of a deep aversion to sexual intercourse. Her preferred male companions are gay. Lesbian sex interests her not at all. What inflames her is virginity. To underline this, she goes into false pregnancy, swells up and finally, deflating suddenly, emits an odor of roses and sanctity.

Rose-scented virginity is one of Gale's playful flourishes. He is playful about Evelyn who, despite being a mother, had her only real love affair with a classmate at her girls' school. Gale is also playful about Seth's own sexual burgeoning; playful, that is, until he turns sentimental and lush.

Fiddling away with enormous talent, Seth falls in love with Roly, a sculptor who is restoring the angels at the local church. Sublimity attends them, Gale makes clear: "Seth glimpsed Roly sitting at the back of the gallery. A shaft of stained light lying across his face and hair. Angel hair."

Roly is wary for a while, but Seth's passion prevails. They have several stained-glass trysts at Roly's lighthouse, assisted by cognac and a recording of "Tristan and Isolde." The grown-ups couldn't be happier about it.

Evelyn, initially troubled, comes right around and wonders whether it wouldn't be more convenient to have Roly as a live-in guest. Bronwen, an old family friend, supplies Seth with hard cider and stirring advice: "If you love Roly, go get him," she trumpets.

Never-Neverland, indeed.

While all this is happening, the book cuts back and forth to the story of Mo, a London police detective. Mo is lesbian. She woos and is won by Hope, a pudgy blond pop singer. Eventually, to prove her love and her credentials in the world of margins, Mo pinches a silver flask and gives it to her lover.

Non-hetero sex apart, there seems to be no link between Mo's and Seth's idylls. Except for the missing Huw. The book's principal practicing hetero, and a breeder-father to boot, Huw is the heavy.

While Cornwall fiddles, Huw burgles. Acting on the notion that the end of the world is being hastened by astrologers who predict it, he breaks into a series of astrologers' homes and steals their prophecies. Two of them die, more or less by miscalculation; and at book's end, Mo has nabbed Huw, and Huw is in jail.

Back in Cornwall, good news arrive to heighten the festivities. A venerable popular novelist who writes breathless he-she romances--I think the reference is to Barbara Cartland--is dead. And Parliament has passed a law lowering the age of homosexual consent to 16.

"All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well," as Christopher Smart wrote. If "Aerodynamics" possessed the thousandth part of Smart's madness, its idiosyncrasies might have shocked, at least. But, at its heart, it's righteous and didactic. Things fall cozily into place congratulating each other; oddly in the fashion of Socialist Realism. It is pedophile agitprop.

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