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Review: 'The Ogre Life' A Noir Steeped in Sex and Fetish, Angst and Sweat

by Kilian Melloy
Thursday Aug 6, 2020
Review: 'The Ogre Life' A Noir Steeped in Sex and Fetish, Angst and Sweat

Gary S. Kadet - author of the acclaimed fetish novel "D/s" - has authored a neon-tinged, febrile noir in "The Ogre Life," a deep dive into sexual obsession and the erotically charged underbelly of the amateur bodybuilding world.

A tale of heartbreak and chemically-fueled physical transformation, "The Ogre Life" dismantles romantic myths of love, charging through the hormonal landscapes of sex and desire with a determination to escape sentiment - all to no avail, of course, because as its protagonist, Simon Lesser, finds out, all mortal men are helpless captives of desires bodily and spiritual.

Desire, in this case, is personified by Erika Verletzen (a surname that, in keeping with Kadet's attention to symbolism, underscores the painful nature of erotic yearning). Erika is a punkish female bodybuilder from Germany whose good-natured husband - not unlike Lesser himself - is in thrall to her. Known internationally as The Big Red for her brightly dyed hair, Verletzen is a commanding presence whose muscles seem effortlessly sculpted - an achievement that hinders her progress in a sport that, steeped in sexism, rewards women not for muscle, but for curves pleasing to the male eye.

This already-complicated romantic situation has yet a fourth component: Simon's wife, Martina, also German and also a bodybuilder. Their marriage is over in all but legal name and Martina holds Simon in raw contempt, but Simon cannot let go of their bond even though nothing remains now but ashes. Brought into bodybuilding as a competitor in his own right by his lifelong fascination with female bodybuilders, Simon finds himself suspended between what once was and what might yet be; Erica, supremely assured, tells Simon that he's what she wants, and envisions a future for the two of them free from complications and hindrances.

But those complications don't let Simon and Erica go very easily - a fact the first-person narration makes plain from the start, as Simon writes out his story in an overheated New York apartment with a fresh corpse sprawled on the floor. As the tale unfolds, with jumps in time and headlong energy, a gripping account of ambition, love, hate, and revenge emerges. The life Simon describes is a sad, ruthless contest decided more by lust than by the dizzying array of chemical compounds he, and all the others in the novel, rely on; winning is illusory, morals are a hindrance, and the fix is in. Is happiness even a possibility?

Kadet, himself a national competitor on the amateur bodybuilding scene, captures a kind of vertigo in these pages, and Simon turns out to be more than the nebbish those around him think he is. His torments are familiar - who won't identify with Simon as he writhes in existential confusion and agony, the rules of the game expressly written to the benefit of others? - but Kadet's prose has a way of burning through the chaos and crystallizing Simon's insights into funny, jagged nuggets that cut deep and carve themselves a place in your mind.

"The Ogre Life"
By Gary S. Kadet
$17 / paperback

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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