I have a confession to make. When I started reading Jeff Mann’s "Purgatory," I was a wee bit critical. Just a few months earlier, based upon the recommendation of the owner of the bookstore Now Voyager in Provincetown, I had read Mann’s "Fog," a brilliantly written dark tale of a young man taken captive by two men. I was struck by the similarities between "Purgatory" and "Fog": a man taken captive and subjected to relentless torture, another man tasked with being his captor, the men falling into a sexual relationship. But, oh, how wrong I was! Yes, "Purgatory" does have those similarities in common with "Fog." But the similarities end there. And instead of a copycat novel, we have a tale that is bold and disturbing, provocative and romantic, mesmerizing and erotic.
"Purgatory," set during the final days of the Civil War, follows the story of young Ian Campbell, a Confederate solider far away from home, reeling from the death of his brother, and hiding a secret: he enjoys the loving embrace and touch of other men. Then, one day, Ian’s life is rocked and changed forever when the the unit takes captive a Union soldier named Drew Conrad. Ian is charged with being Drew’s captor, responsible for keeping Drew alive so that the unit, including Ian’s brutal uncle Sarge, can torment, torture, and humiliate him. Before long, the two men’s innate animosity gives way to respect and friendship, and passion and love for one another.
"Purgatory" is a fascinating read, a novel rich with scenes of military combat, internal strife amidst the troops, harrowing and disturbing torture, and unbridled passion. But at the core of the novel is something that distinctly sets it apart from Mann’s earlier tome, "Fog": "Purgatory" is, at its heart, a romance novel. And what a monumental romance novel it is. One cannot help getting swept up into the passion, intimacy, and love that Ian and Drew share. Theirs is a relationship that propels difficult choices, tests familial and military ties, and challenges the convictions and beliefs of a number of characters.
From beginning to end, "Purgatory" is rife with relentless tension, teeming with passion and romance, and laced with an array of both likable and loathsome characters. "Purgatory" is truly a compelling and interesting read. Bravo to Mann for a groundbreaking novel that blends historical facts and fictional characters in a touching romance between two men.
Be sure to read EDGE’s interview with author Jeff Mann, his insights on "Purgatory," and what might be on the horizon for Ian and Drew.
"Purgatory: A Novel of the Civil War"
Bear Bone Books/Lethe Press
Softcover: $18.00, Ebook: $8.99
by Jeff Mann