Mahape a ale Wala‘au by Paul G. Bens – review

Rating: 10/10 ★★★★★★★★★★ 
Title: Mahape a ale Wala’au
Author: Paul G. Bens
Genre: Romance, erotica, modern
URL: Torquere Press
Price: US$2.49

Now at Smashwords for $2.75 as part of the Talk Story anthology
Other Information/warnings: explicit m/m

Summary: Japanese businessman ‘Toshi’ recalls a Christmas holiday, fleeing cold, repressed Tokyo for the warmth and friendliness of Hawaii. There, he meets Kristopher and the two of them shed their respectable facades, to explore their inner selves and desires.

My review:

It’s probably no surprise to regular readers of my reviews that I am not a fan of Torquere Press. I, like other readers who’ve told me of their experiences, as well as authors who’ve been published by them, am exasperated by the scattergun approach to quality and editing, which means a buyer of any of their products can have no assurance that the thing will be worth the money forked over. I don’t believe it should come as a pleasant shock to find that fiction purchased from an apparently reputable publisher, doesn’t suck. That should be the expectation – sadly, it’s not with this press (and too many of its competitors.)

I’m also, as regular readers of my reviews and fiction will also know, not a fan of erotica for erotica’s sake (so again, most of Torquere’s output, being nothing more than stroke fic, just holds no appeal.) So when Paul Bens, a writer whose work I’d come to admire, told me he’d sold an erotic story to Torquere, my heart sank. I knew he’d send it to me for review – was this to be yet another story by a friend I’d have to decline to critique rather than cause offence?

To my delight (and relief) Mahape a ale Wala’au does so much more than not suck. The single sour note I can sound about it is that it shouldn’t have been published by Torquere or an e-publisher at all, because this is a story of such elegance and beauty, it ought to be gracing the pages of an anthology such as the The Mammoth Book of New Gay Erotica. It’s quality work, and reading it again to write this review, I felt a mixture of envy and admiration for the way Bens creates both his worlds and his characters with such apparent ease.

Toshi leads a repressed life as a respectable businessman, where the office workers on the trains “carry briefcases and iModes and the weight of the business world, and, if you are lucky and the trains are crowded (they always are), you can feel their buried passions as they press up against you, hands discretely lingering upon legs, shoulders casually brushing against arms over and over again. Some of them even grow hard, throbbing against your thigh or your buttocks, their sexual heartbeat coursing along with the pulse of the train. To them you give a secret, shy smile and you do not pull away. You press closer.”

He’s heard Hawaii offers more overt, warmer pleasures so he goes in search, quickly falling in love with the openhearted, uninhibited life of the islands, and its gay community. He’s also intrigued by the beautiful men so unselfconsciously on display both as ‘living statues’ and on the beaches. One, piquing Toshi’s fetish for ‘Japanese Speedos’ particularly catches his eye, and when Toshi finally meets this man, ‘Kristopher’, they spend a teasing, tender, sensual afternoon and night together. Kristopher, like Toshi, needs “to be something more”, to give into his secret hedonist, to surrender or to dominate.

Bens weaves the beauty and lushness of the islands into the very intimate encounter between Kristopher and Toshi with grace and skill. Nothing is rushed, every touch, every conversation lingered over lovingly, described in slow, sufficient detail. A market place becomes a source of playful, mildly kinky and exhibitionist sexual teasing whle an elevator ride ratchets up the tension between them, before they finally make love. The night ends with the words “Mahape a ale Wala’au” – “Don’t speak. Keep it in your heart” – for this is a story about creating a sweet, perfect moment in time, a memory to return to and caress, when one must return to the real world and its demands.

Many, many stories claim to be erotic – most do less than nothing for me, being pedestrian, boring and the opposite of arousing. This one is sensuality distilled, and like all good writing, transcends its genre. It’s erotic but it has a real heart – we learn about the characters, come to care for them and they grow within it. It’s a journey of the soul as well as a holiday for Toshi – and for the reader. Small and perfectly formed at 10,000 words, it’s well worth $2.49. It feels like a much more substantial read than the mere word count indicates.

Mahape a ale Wala’au is TGFT – Too Good For Torquere. Highly recommended as a delight for the senses and the heart.

As a bonus, visit the author’s site and enjoy his lovingly constructed tour of the Hawaiian islands by click on the links for this story.