A Matter of Life and Sex by Oscar Moore

“It was the memory of a pause.”

There’s a seedy, twilight world that runs parallel to our cosy, safe terrain. One false move, one wrong turn, and we leave our safe, familiar world behind and enter this dangerous, dark underworld. Once the first step is taken, there is no turning back.

Hugo is 14 years old when he takes that step. He is the only son of a horrifically cold, neurotic and frequently violent woman. His stepfather is a mild man who is content to linger in the background. Hugo is already seriously damaged when he enters his teens. He cannot feel emotion, and has removed himself far from emotional pain. He’s attracted to members of the same sex, and has a definite curiosity, when he accidentally stumbles into the world of “24 hour tango” which takes place at a local public toilet.

From silent, sometimes brutal, encounters with strangers, and seductions that begin with a single, hungry look, Hugo slides into pornography, prostitution and drug abuse. In the beginning, Hugo is able to separate himself from his actions by creating a suave, tougher alter ego, David. It is as though David–not Hugo–experiences the searing often degrading encounters in the public toilets, but as Hugo matures, he drops this persona, and instead, we encounter, Hugo–intelligent, handsome, and yet completely and utterly soulless.

“A Matter of Life and Sex” is one man’s journey to hell. This book is an unrelenting, searing, graphic, brutal read. Many of the details of Hugo’s life will be too much for some readers; however, the details are not salacious. Every word was necessary in this brilliant, stunning novel. The protagonist Hugo doesn’t possess any characteristics that make him particularly likeable, but he’s not despicable either. He’s hollow–not shallow–and he feels “no need to develop a conscience” so he never experiences any moral barriers to his behaviour. Author Oscar Moore creates a character who is basically a living, breathing blank–and in this devastatingly honest novel, there is nowhere for the main character to hide. From Hugo’s days as a confused schoolboy vaguely bothered by his lack of attraction to girls, his college days supporting himself as a male prostitute, to his final catharsis in New York, Hugo lacks the refuge of recriminations, remorse, or even doubt. Hugo dreams of being a street tough and laces his imagination with images of how he’d like to be, but he remains a symptom and a victim of the dark culture he flounders in. Tragically, just as Hugo begins to reclaim his life, the consequences of his past sweep over him. “A Matter of Life and Sex” is a blistering record of the world awakening to the presence of AIDS, and this book remains one of the best books I’ve read this year. Author Oscar Moore left us just this one novel before his tragic death.

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