Edmond Manning has suggested to me that there are several more Vin Vanbly stories in the lost-and-founds series. If I could buy all of them right now, I would.
Title: King Mai
Author: Edmond Manning
Publisher: Pickwick Ink Publishing
My Rating: 5 of 5 stars
From the Publisher:
Adopted from Thailand and never one to fit in with the local bubbas, life has been rough around the edges for Mai Kearns, even before he came out of the closet. Now, almost ten years past the torture of high school, Mai still can’t catch a break: he and his parents stand to lose their beloved farm.
How will a “King Weekend” help change Mai’s fate? What has narrator Vin Vanbly been up to for the four weeks he’s been sneaking around Mai’s hometown? At the urging of a ransom note from ‘The Lost Kings,’ Mai embarks on an impossible treasure hunt chasing mystic poetry, Fibonacci Hopscotch, ancient prophecy, the letter ‘x,’ and a confounding, penguin-marching army.
The stakes are high: if Mai fails, the Lost Kings will permanently claim him as their own. Finding the treasure may unlock the secret to saving his family farm. But can this angry farmer risk opening his broken heart before the weekend is over? Mai Kearns has 40 hours to get very, very curious in this second installment of The Lost and Founds.
Even as I read this book, inexpressibly moved by the laughable, heartbreaking shenanigans that Vin and Mai Kearns get up to, I was also aware that not everyone is going to “get” this series. Vin’s shaggy-dog narratives about the history of the Found Kings is something of a distraction; only when you realize that this is intentional can you fully appreciate the author’s gift. As was the case in King Perry, Vin is manipulating the reader exactly as he is manipulating Mai Kearns. You never know what’s going to happen next, in spite of Vin’s conspiratorial voice speaking directly to you throughout.
And while generally part of the larger umbrella of “m/m fiction,” with its large female audience, it feels to me that this book is really written for men. There’s no other way to explain the effect of Manning’s story on me. Not that women readers won’t like it—far from it—but I have rarely felt so fully targeted by a novel’s premise. We are all lost and found at some time in our lives. This existential truth is not appealing to everyone, but if you’re open to it: wow.
King Mai is the second of the lost-and-founds books, but its setting predates King Perry by three years, set in 1996. Nominally it is the picaresque tale of the mysterious Vin Vanbly saving the heart and soul of a twenty-four-year-old adopted Thai-born Illinois farmer. But at the core of Mai’s tale is Vin’s own story, of which we only learn harrowing fragments in each of the two books. Although Mai is the focus of both Vin’s attention and the novel’s premise, it is really Vin’s own unrevealed history that is the driving force. Vin is a Lost King, and that is why he must make Found Kings.
What surprised and gratified me most about King Mai, is that it is so entirely different from the first novel. The general structure of the story is the same: a weekend from Friday evening to Sunday noon over which Vin must achieve his goal and for which he has carefully prepared in advance. But beyond that, everything is different. Mai Kearns is a young farmer on the verge of losing his farm. Picked on for being different (both Asian and gay) as he was growing up, he feels friendless and embattled.
But he loves the corn. And Vin’s job is to open Mai’s heart to that love and all the potential it will reveal for his life.
Vin is very explicit in his denial of anything magic; he’s no angel from heaven or superhero in disguise. He’s just a tall blond bear from Minnesota with a very messy past. But the feeling of magical realism that pervades the tale made me feel, as I read it, that I had tapped into some universal truth that, if I would just let it, would change my life.
I write this just as Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch has won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. I read that book for my (all male mostly straight) book club earlier this year. I liked it, grudgingly. But I will always be resentful, lost king that I am sometimes, that the mainstream (i.e. straight male) world of contemporary fiction will probably never open its heart to writers like Manning and the wonders they work. Too bad for them.
I would like to thank Edmond Manning for providing me with the eARC of this title in exchange for my honest opinion.
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
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