Anyone familiar with the musical output of John Wesley Harding (né Wesley Stace) knows that the artist possesses a sly wit and literary ear that sets him apart from his fellow folk singers
by Wesley Stace
Little, Brown, 519 pp., $23.95Anyone familiar with the musical output of John Wesley Harding (né Wesley Stace) knows that the artist possesses a sly wit and literary ear that sets him apart from his fellow folksingers. Stace uses his literary debut, Misfortune, as an opportunity to expand upon those particular talents in a sexy, experimental romp through Georgian England, told from the perspective of Rose Old. Rose is a foundling boy child raised as a girl by his eccentric, noble father and passionate bibliophile mother. Early in the novel, a child poses the question, "How can a person be a man and a woman?" and Stace, working from Greek mythology (among other influences), takes that question and turns gender into a playground with bodice-ripping, often hilarious results. While some of the prose clunks with the effort, Stace concocts a strange, unsettling blend of modern syntax and the elevated language of 19th-century belles lettres. Misfortune has already garnered many comparisons to the brilliant gender-bending saga Middlesex, although it is not as beautifully written as Jeffrey Eugenides' epic. The bulk of the novel's value stems from the fact that, thanks to Stace's imagination and meticulous research, gender roles in literature are that much more expansive, which, one hopes, will lead to even more exciting new directions.