REVIEW: “My Heart’s Own Desire” by Robert Levy

Review of Robert Levy, “My Heart’s Own Desire”, in Steve Berman, ed., Wilde Stories 2017: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction (Lethe Press, 2017): 199-211 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

He said he was a man of means now hidden to the world, and that he wanted nothing more than to take me back to his place. It is safe, he said, and warm. He also let it be known that he could conjure the most illuminating things, potion-soaked wafers that gave you crystal visions. The Hierophant’s shit is so good, my brother Carter told me later, people say God is his supplier.

Content note: Contains explicit incest.

This was a difficult story for me to read, not the least because of some fairly graphic incest scenes. I’m not a huge fan of graphic sex scenes, but there are some contexts when they feel so right and natural that I do not mind them and even enjoy them. But the context here just feels so wrong.

Often when I’m reading, the underlying question I am continually asking is “Why this story?” Why did the narrator choose to tell this story? Why did the author choose to tell this story? Quite often the answer is a simple — if unhelpful — “because it’s a good one”. But other times, I feel like I must struggle with the story to find the answer, because the underlying premise to the question always is “they must have had a reason, a reason that they thought this story was the one worth telling”. One of the salutary things about fiction is the way in which it can force people to question their defaults and assumptions, to take a second look at why they react the way they do. I found myself doing that quite often reading this story — asking myself “is the repugnance with which I view incest preventing me from seeing clearly the answer to ‘why this story’?” Is there something the author has to say that makes this particular mode of saying it not only appropriate but justified?

At the end, I don’t know. I also don’t know whether the fault lies with me, or with the story — or with both, or with neither. It was well-written — lovely pacing, beauiful imagery, depictions of drug-induced experiences that I can appreciate aesthetically even while I have no point of contact in my own experiences — but I’m not sure that was enough to rehabilitate this one for me.

(Originally appeared in Congress Magazine, 2016.)