by Wake Cruise
John works the late-night shift as a delivery man through the streets of Chicago. We know very little about his life, outside of his job. We don´t even know what he delivers, nor do we ever see him make any deliveries, learn anything about his customers. Wake Cruise, the author of the unusual Seven and Seven, instead wants us to know about what John spends his time doing in-between deliveries: cruising for men.
Specifically, John desires Latin men, ones who are muscular, clean-cut, and macho. Combined with being fluent in some basic Spanish, his work-route through the the Little Village section of the city provides a kind of urban hunting ground for him to find brief sexual partners to join him in his van for a ride. By traversing strip malls and fast-food restaurants, parking lots and back alleys, Seven and Seven details how John encounters the men who originate from Mexico or Puerto Rico, who are under-employed and panhandling, or who are homeless and just trying to get enough money for a fix. The novel maps a dark terrain, and an atmosphere of loneliness and desperation infuses every page.
It´s hard to determine how "fictional" Seven and Seven is, as each chapter of this repetitive story feels as though it originated from a real-life journal, chronicling a delivery man´s late night exploits. I also don´t know if I would even call this book erotic; instead, I found it fascinating and lurid, unusual and strange.
Let´s start with the driver, John. Whether with Ricardo or Alejandro, Herman or Gonzalez, John likes a specific kind of Latino man, and no one else (interestingly, at one point in the book, we briefly encounter Jason, a white neighbor of his who is openly gay, and who seems genuinely interested in getting to know John; but he is rejected for "not being his type" as well as for being "too open" about this homosexuality).
These pick-ups are essentially identical: John picks them up on the street late at night, perhaps sweetening the invitation to go for a ride by offering a soda from the drive-through at a nearby McDonald´s he frequents. If receptive to his compliments and small-talk, John suggests going to a secluded spot, where the two men first exit the van to urinate before beginning their "date" (how John refers to these moments with these men in his van). Back inside, John will massage the man´s thigh until they unbuckle their pants and pull down their underwear, so he can lean over from the driver´s seat and suck them off. After ejaculating into his mouth, John then masturbates in the driver´s seat until he orgasms, before driving them back to Cermak Avenue or the strip mall or wherever he originally picked them up. Wordlessly and wanting to appear casual, John always gives some money to these men, without explanation, before they exit his van.
What´s fascinating is that none of the men who enter his van identify as gay or bisexual. In fact, most have wives or girlfriends, while others see female prostitutes when they can scrape together a few bucks. Even John, who says he is gay, doesn´t want anyone to know about his same-sex activities: he reacts violently in a couple of instances when confronted about what he is doing with these men in the van. He shouts, threatens, claims that they are all lying. It´s grimly interesting, reading about these characters who engage in homosexual acts, but do not have a homosexual identity. All of the action occurs at night, in desolate locations, the presence of police or other onlookers creating a constant low-grade tension. Seven and Seven is furtive and raw, and more than a little sad.
For a story centered on obsession and sex, Cruise´s book feels more interested in character-study than narrative; the book seems to get its tone from John Rechy, with a little bit of Jim Thompson also on the palette. Sure, there some suspense within the book--the recurring presence of Manuel, his wife Samantha, some missing money--but these mysteries are not what makes the book thrum forward through the night. Instead, Seven and Seven chronicles desperation and hunger, opening up a late-night world of need told in sparse language, with characters that seem almost more vulnerable than the author intended. A very different kind of novel about sex, than most of the self-published work out there.