cover image A Self-Portrait in the Year of the High Commission on Love

A Self-Portrait in the Year of the High Commission on Love

David Biespiel. Stephen F. Austin Univ, $24 (250p) ISBN 978-1-62288-244-1

In this beautiful debut novel from poet Biespiel (Republic Café), an 18-year-old budding writer tackles questions of faith and filial duty in 1981 Texas. Jon Wain, known as “Duke,” takes a road trip with his buoyant best friend Manolo Salazar from Houston to Galveston. Along the way, Duke and Manolo drink beer, smoke a joint, argue about baseball and literature, and speculate about their futures. Duke, whose rabbi father is a prominent community leader, feels alienated from his devout family. Salazar, in turn, is discouraged by his preacher father from joining the Army. The best scenes involve the friends’ dialogue as they each sort out the difficulty of being their own man (“You think you’re in the moat. You’re not.... You don’t get outside the castle, man,” Salazar tells Duke). The trip along the Texas coast also involves an ex-girlfriend, a funeral, and a provocative young woman named Caroline, with whom Duke has a memorable encounter on the beach in the middle of the night. Biespiel contrasts young Duke’s propulsive energy with lyrical reflections of such events as a boozy beach party (“I was thinking that this whole atmosphere was a holy music, the notes flying up around my body like the red-beaked gulls floating overhead in big circles”). Readers will fall in love with Biespiel’s world of wonder and yearning. (Oct.)