About this book
Finalist for the ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Award (Gay/Lesbian Fiction)
Shortlisted for the ReLit Award for Best Novel
The first novel by George K. Ilsley, whose first story collection, Random Acts of Hatred, was published to acclaim in 2003. Told in dreamlike fragments, ManBug unfolds as a love story between Sebastian, an entomologist with Asperger's Syndrome (similar to autism), and Tom, a spiritual bisexual who may or may not be recruiting Sebastian for a cult. They explore the world through their relationship, seeking meaning and value in themselves through the other. They also try to avoid the inevitable toxins around them, both real and imagined—like bugs avoiding insecticide—while asking the question, Just how much poison can any of us absorb?
ManBug is a beguiling, tragicomic novel about beauty, horror, desire, and what lurks just beneath the skin.
Sebastian used to be a research entomologist.
Mostly, Sebastian researched the development of pesticides.
Much about this work in the killing field disturbed Sebastian (for example, the casual use of the concept "termination opportunity").
When distressed, Sebastian tended to express conflict. A blurt of truth might escape his lips before he could help himself. This could be, for example, while compiling mortality data, or tweaking a statistical analysis of residual contamination by increasing the sample size. Smoothing the result, it was called. Smoothing the rough edges of truth: the research facility, through a shift in perspective, became a factory generating statistics. They virtually manufactured data, based on demand.
Statisticians called the data massage, increasing the sample size.
Managers called it, broadening the research horizon.
Sebastian called it, diluting the evidence. Diluting it until the answer came back, "no detectable residue."
But all the poison was still in there.
Somewhere. Somebody was eating it.
Sexy, funny, and daring—a bug's eye view of how we invent and elude one another, how we try to capture the ineffable with words and are left only with mantras. Reckless, unflinching, and just crazy enough, Ilsley fights his way toward a new taxonomy of the real, one of the few steps forward for gay fiction in many years. People will call this book postmodern, but it is something much finer and harder: modern, and assigned reading for everybody.
—Mark Merlis, author of An Arrow's Flight and Man About Town
You may never again think of lipstick or your nose or chocolate-covered raisins in quite the same way.
This fractured love story is captivating ... [with] moments of transcendent beauty.
Ilsley's larky and radiant story provides more than the anatomy of a disorder. There's lots of winking humor ... along with emotional spelunking, fun bug facts, and even a little Sanskirt, all within the context of a love story that yields an unexpected universality.
What fascinated me about ManBug
was the way in which Ilsley tells the story.
A work of sophisticated intelligence, grappling with the world's big, refractory mysteries.... an elegantly accomplished love story.... a book that works impressively on many lvels and delivers keen intellectual and aesthetic pleasures.... ManBug
serves notice its author is going to be around for the long haul. Ilsley has important things to tell us all.
—Tom Sandborn, The Globe and Mail
Wry and often funny ... George Ilsley makes us fit together the puzzle pieces of Sebastian's romance with Tom.
, American Library Association
saved me. I read it in one sitting, one giant gulp of pure bliss. Here is a book composed of fragments and fancies, a book that utterly disdains anything resembling a traditional plot, a book full of voice and vigor, a funny book, a sexy book, a book so well constructed, so carefully controlled that it would be easy to miss how deadly serious are its idea and themes. When I first read Manbug
, I knew I'd finally found the book to kill my inner conservative.
—Matt Cheney, Litblog Co-op