If authors were like rock bands, Bradley Denton would be Talking Heads. With every book, he completely changes his subject, style, and composition, yet remains the same fun, eclectic author. It’s invigorating to approach a new Denton novel, akin to meeting an old friend who’s been on an extended safari—you can’t wait to see what he’s brought back. In Lunatics, Denton’s gone hunting in the fertile range of fantasy’s past, wrestled with the ghosts of Thorne Smith and James Branch Cabell, an returned with the trophy of a screwball sex romp that will put a smile on your face and touch your heart.
Jack’s friends are worried. Ever since his wife’s death, he’s withdrawn from them, given up his job and his house, and become a hermit. That is until one January night when the police pick him up in front of his apartment for public indecency. It seems that he was standing nude in the moonlight because that’s the only way his new lover, Lily, the goddess of the moon, can find him. His friends make it their duty to watch over him during these regular bouts of insanity every full moon, to help him regain his senses, but they discover Jack’s sanity is the least of their worries.
With a winged, taloned moon goddess as a central character, it’s hard to classify Lunatics as anything but fantasy, but the book’s heart is realistic character interaction. This interplay is reminiscent of The Big Chill, complete with sexual liaisons gone awry and friendships that sometimes hang on the most tenuous of threads. The fantastical element is the spark that moves the plot, but is otherwise lost in the shuffle of bodies and minds.
Straight-laced readers should beware: this is a novel about sex and how it affects people. Although Lunatics is never pornographic, Denton’s approach to the subject (as in Blackburn) is forthright. The characters talk like real people and do things that real people do. It’s a refreshing change of pace from fantasies where characters have the physiognomy of Barbie dolls and the bedroom life of The Dick van Dyke Show.
Lunatics is Denton’s strongest novel—an impressive feat given the strengths of Buddy Holly is Alive and Well on Ganymede and Blackburn. You can’t call Denton a promising author anymore. The promise has been fulfilled; the man has arrived.
[Finished sometime 1996]