Revealing much of his deeply-flawed hero, John Morgan Wilson’s Spider Season is essentially a coda to much of what has transpired in ex-alcoholic and disgraced journalist Benjamin Justice’s life so far. Memory is a slippery thing, as Benjamin gradually earns to perceive certain events in his life through the prism of his own needs. A story where Ben‘s “old debts are finally coming due,” this latest installment is also about how Ben must put many of his past mistakes to rest and where his lust and his anger becomes mixed in with dark, crazy confusion about who he really is and what his real intentions might be.
Time and guilt have a way of warping Ben’s memory and blurring his reality. Now nearing fifty, Ben may have lived a troubled life, but he’s lost none of his irascibility and remarkable capacity for tenderness, even though for the first time he finds himself tackling the strange voices emanating from his past. Filled with a pent-up fury as stifled and brittle as the hot Santa Ana winds that sweep through Los Angeles every fall, Benjamin is celebrating the publication of
Deep Background, a memoir that finally lays out in shameful detail his spectacular fall from grace, the murder of his father, and the stripping away of his Pulitzer prize.
Benjamin has reached a stage in his life where he has a chance to do some public atonement, make a little money, possibly get back into the writing game, and also put to rest some of the issues surrounding his beloved Jacques, who died of AIDS eighteen years ago. Yet all his desires towards achieving emotional comfort prove to be illusive at best, when outside the West Hollywood home of
octogenarian best friends Fred and Maurice, Benjamin comes face-to face with a menacing intruder, a tattooed
young man who trashes his prized Mustang.
The end result is a fierce fight, and a bloodied boy now lies on the pavement, his battered face the result of Benjamin’s uncontrollable seething testosterone-fueled anger. The boy’s name is Lance, and he’s somehow connected
to Cheryl Zarimba, an old college flame who was the last woman Ben slept with. Thirty years have passed since he last saw or spoke of Cheryl, but according to Cathryn Conroy - a tough-minded female reporter out to nail Ben with calculated and cruel effect - Cheryl languished for years, brokenhearted and bitter
over Ben's desertion.
Benjamin hardly has time to explore the reason behind Lance’s sudden effusive interest in him
- or Lance’s puzzling connection to Cheryl - when he’s deluged with hate mail written with an uncanny knowledge of his life thirty years ago. Only now does Ben finally realize how
littered his past is with bad choices, people he abandoned, and the many challenges he ran away from, particularly that of fawning, sycophantic, self-adoring Jason Holt, now propped up with plastic surgery and buoyed along by his fascination with spiders.
Traversing the length and breadth of a smoggy, crowded Los Angeles, Benjamin becomes evermore desperate to tie together the disparate elements in a mystery that involves murder, cover-ups, poisonings, and a surprising betrayal
by someone who Ben long considered his best friend. Not even the “Aztec prince” Ismael, Benjamin’s new romantic interest, can assuage Ben’s feelings that he’s made such a mess of things.
His life has been “like a storm wind,” breaking and scattering nearly everything and everyone he has ever cared about.
Tightly plotted with characterizations that seem to live and breath within the author’s psyche, Wilson's Spider Season introduces us to a contemporary noir Los Angeles of old hipsters and aging starlets, bourgeois artists and washed-up, drunken journalists who will stop at nothing to ferret out the next big story. Wilson is on top of his game here, his beloved but flawed protagonist as gutsy and desire-driven as in any of his previous adventures. Surprisingly, however, it is in this latest outing that vulnerable Benjamin is forced to confront his hardest test yet: burrowing into the riddle of his
own tortured masculinity and what it really means to be a man.
The first chapter of Spider Season can be read at the author's website,