Thursday, August 18, 2011

Call and Answer by Val Kovalin

Call and Answer by Val Kovalin
Publisher: Amber Quill Press
Genre: Contemporary, GLBT
Length: 131 pages

Summary: Small-town Louisiana in 1959 is a dangerous place to have a gay affair. But Henri can't help his instant attraction to Gabriel, a handsome black musician who accepts his advances with amused tolerance. Henri hopes for a summer of hot, uncomplicated sex before he leaves for college. He doesn't realize that Gabriel is a powerful shapeshifter who also lives as an alligator in the bayou.

When Henri first sees Gabriel transform into an alligator, he mistakes him for the Devil. Then he learns that Gabriel exists to raise power through sex-magic. For that, Gabriel needs a human lover. In the past, some lovers have helped Gabriel spend the power for the good of the land, and others have squandered it for personal gain. What will Henri do--given that he never wanted to be a magic-wielder in the first place?

As his summer romance with Gabriel deepens into passionate love, Henri must learn to face responsibility as he encounters prejudice, family feuds, and startling glimpses into the underworlds of New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Can he persuade Gabriel to take a chance on a future with him?


So many things are off the beaten path with Call and Answer--this shapeshifter story is definitely an unique offering. Set in bayou country in the late fifties, the elements of time and place shape but do not overwhelm the plot. Val Kovalin has created something special here.

Henri Broussard, horny eighteen year old, blows past the conventions and into the arms of Gabriel, a gorgeous black man/land spirit who insists Henri know and understand his alligator form and nature. It's easy for Henri to agree to the responsibilities that come with Gabriel, much easier than to actually discharge them. Henri's thoughtless and a little wild; Gabriel might have been right to think Henri's called him too soon.

Kovalin weaves the small town, pre-Civil Rights movement, pre-women's lib attitudes through the plot very deftly, without resorting to coarse language in doing it, yet it all simmers within the story, much as it must have done in that time. Combine that with the heavy bayou air, the water that's too dangerous to swim in for anyone except Gabriel, and the pull of sex, and the sweat rises off the reader.

Gabriel's a mystery, yet very open, too. He doesn't question what he is or why he's bound in certain ways; he's been in the swamps since "before whites or blacks." It's been a long time since his seasonal partner was a man, but Henri burns with lust – he's the one. There's a serious maturity gap here, yet Gabriel cannot be the guide Henri so urgently needs because of the way the power works. Somehow that's fitting – look into reptilian eyes and there's no one in there you can communicate with.

This is so much the story of Henri's growing up, going from simple lust to understanding and maybe even love, and coming into manhood in so many other ways. Henri's character in the beginning seemed under compulsion – there were no moments of reflection on how many of society's rules he was breaking or that he was doing it deliberately or with understanding, just boom – into the arms of the most unsuitable (on the surface) lover around. By the end though, this young man is a much finer person. A varied cast of secondary characters assist him in their various ways, from Sofie, who wants a different life and feels a claim on Gabriel, to Mr. Jackson, a middle-aged black teacher who's been beaten, but not beaten down, by the color bar, and a family already astraddle two cultures.

Henri's young and the mistakes he makes reflect that – unbridled horniness and hesitating to fulfill a frightening duty -- by the end he's much deeper than he starts, when his every action has consequences greater than he first expects. His decisions cost him dearly, and yet, the story ends on hope. I want to see what happens in the spring. 4.5 marbles


  1. Great review. I really enjoyed this one too, I loved their voices and the accent added to it rather than made me crazy as they can in some instences. I'm also looking forward to seeing how they cope in the future.

  2. Thank you so much, Crys, for the awesome review. You really understood what I set out to do with this story. (And, hi, Tam! Thanks for the comment!) Now I'm looking forward to doing those sequels. :D

  3. I enjoyed this story, Val, and I really want to see what happens as Henri continues to mature. The scene with Gabriel and the roasted pig probably wasn't supposed to make me laugh, but I couldn't help but imagining people shrieking EEEEEE and flinging potato salad in their haste to run.

    What Tam said about the accents was right on -- the subtle use of some regional word patterns let us imagine the accent without slogging through a ton of transliterated dialect.

    When there's this much good stuff in one place it's hard to mention it all.

  4. I love Val Kovalin's work, and lived in the bayou country for several years (I even know some Broussards). I definitely need to read this one. Great review!

  5. The scene with Gabriel and the roasted pig probably wasn't supposed to make me laugh, but I couldn't help but imagining people shrieking EEEEEE and flinging potato salad in their haste to run.

    Ha, ha! That's great! I was going for a bit of humor and shock value. It is kind of an amusing image. :D


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