This novel, both a romance and an aesthetic treatise, was written by Laura Argiri and published in 1992. The work of eleven years, the novel follows the life of Simeon Satterwhite, the son of a lunatic reverend in the hill country of West Virginia. Reared by a consumptive, Simeon survives his father's beatings to attend Yale in 1892; there he falls in love with an enigmatic Greek art professor, Doriskos Klionarios. Their dangerous affair is brought into public scrutiny by an obsessive and perverse ex-student of Doriskos', Peter. Aided by a rich cast of characters, from Andy Carpallon, the champagne-suited fop and New Orleans debonair, to Helmut Kneitel, a motherly German pianist, Doriskos and Simeon navigate the stormy relationship and finally produce Doriskos' masterpiece, a statue called The God in Flight which wins the Canova Prize and gives the novel its title.
This book is at first glance a fairly straight-forward gay romance, with little in the way of social commentary past the views of the author herself. The God in Flight can be faulted, in fact, by a certain shallowness in the ancillary characters and a uniformity in the rest--all of the main characters, for instance, are athiests, which seems very improbable considering the Victorian milieu. On another note, the novel is not particularly literary in that it seems to lack a strong emphasis on thematics and symbolism. To this, however, one may demonstrate that The God is exemplary in its treatment of character, pacing, and atmosphere. The student of writing may well take a lesson or two from Argiri, whose primary characters are worthy of the literary canon in all respects except their certain qualities of anachronism.
Similarly, the plot is a well-textured latticework on which the personalities of the novel may grow. These are the real highlights of the novel, the aspects which give it color and vitality. In combination with the rich setting--Victorian Yale--the baroque elegance of Argiri's characters render The God a rapturous read, full of crackling emotion and a feeling of epic proportions--indeed, the book could well be turned into an opera.
It is, however, a curiosity that Argiri, a woman, would choose to write a homoerotic romance completely devoid of women. There is not a single instance of a female character with the exception of a smelly old crone who keeps house for the Reverend Satterwhite. The masculinity of the romance will be refreshing--dare I say intoxicating--for the gay reader, but feminists will likely feel as though the fairer sex were being ignored throughout the text. In the novel's defense, Yale of the 1890s was a 'man's world'. It is worthy to note that the novel could not have been a romance between teacher and student as well as set in this time period without being necessarily homoerotic. Assuming that Argiri wished to write a Victorian novel (For the book was marketed chiefly as a neo-Victorian work) about the forbidden love between a professor and his student, she would have been forced to write a gay romance; had she wanted to write a gay romance between teacher and student, the bleak and unforgiving landscape of New England seems an appropriate setting for such an endeavor. Even putting aside the pleasure of reading the novel, her choice of subject matter remains completely defensible.
On a final note, The God in Flight is no traipse through the Uranian meadows on a spring morning--Simeon himself is gripped by powerful neuroses that nearly take his life after a cataclysmic fight, and the stakes weighed against the central characters lend the book a sense of terrible urgency. From the opening page, which "Ought to begin... with the sound of a slap across the jaw," the atmosphere of humid tension underwrites the entire text until the closing chapter. Argiri's novel is a masterwork of characterization, setting, and drama--and a rhapsodic read.