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by Kilian Melloy
Friday Aug 21, 2009

A gay Vietnamese American named Richard; his uptight brother, Minh; the grieving mother of a teen suicide; a young gay boy named George. Four lives connected by a being called Kelland who appears to each of them as someone different: a child, a gorgeous woman, a kindly priest, a violent lover.

Paul G. Bens' novel Kelland may sound like a supernatural thriller, but it doesn't fit so easily into any genre specifications. His characters are three-dimensional people, bothered and flawed and struggling: they live in a world of light and edges, a world that Bens brings vividly to life with a lovely prose style and an artful realism.

Bens allows his novel to surprise the reader in unconventional ways. As the story unfolds (and there's no way to say much about it without spoiling the fun), disconcerting twists arise that challenge what you think you know, even daring you to take another look at your long-cherished notions of good and evil.

Indeed, there is an evil at the heart of the novel that is so grotesque that Bens can only approach it layer by layer, treading closer to horrifying revelations and shocking outcomes by carefully calibrated degrees. But there's never a sense of the story being forced along: rather, Bens allows his book to glide, and the chills come not from big jolts (though there are a few), but from a relentless application of suspense and a deft skill at keeping the reader off balance. Slowly, the threads Bens spins out draw tight, and draw the characters together. At the moment they meet, terrible acts will be committed... and crimes long concealed will be punished.

What is Kelland? Who is Kelland? Bens dedicates his book to "those who know," and the intimations he hints at ring in your ears long after you've finished the novel.

Publisher: Casperian Books. Publication date: September 1, 2009. Pages: 251. Price: $15. Format: Trade Paperback original. ISBN 978-1-934-081-198

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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