Gale Martin is an opera fan who writes about opera for fun. She has outdone herself with this musically themed farce about love and sex among the members of a small-town opera company overcoming petty differences to save their beloved theater from financial morbidity.
The plan they decide on is a no-holds-barred production of Mozart’s
Don Giovanni. When the leading man backs out of his contract, they risk all by bringing in a relatively unknown Spanish crooner who, as it turns out, is a Don Juan in person: his voracious need for sex is the hub on which the wheels of this fast-paced intellectual farce speed along.
The book begins with an assault and a near-death experience, followed by two actual deaths, one of them perpetrated by a giant neon chicken falling from the roof of the Hankey diner and literally pecking one well-deserving sinner to death. Then there’s the ghost of a departed wife hanging around her grieving husband for some unstated purpose.
Is it to ensure his ability to bond with a new woman and let the past be past? The ghost-wife can be heard only by Arnaud, a clairaudient, the show’s production manager, and an annoying little schemer whose machinations cause some of the tighter plot twists. Throw into the mix an older woman scorned, a horny divorcee, an almost middle-aged virgin, and a catsup heiress (Franz--think Heinz), a still-waters-run-deep director with hidden passions, a voodoo doll, a lusty lover on a ladder, and a
séance in a church yard accompanied by three obstreperous dachshunds.
Above all, Martin’s cast must and does include the consummate consummator, the Don Giovanni whose onstage ability to make every female from heiresses to waitresses swoon is matched by his backstage love for the ladies--one per half-hour, preferably. A newcomer whose star is on the rise, Leandro “the Lion Man” Vasquez, we are told, won first prize in competition named “Operatoonity” (also the name of Martin’s website). As Hankey’s operatic women are seduced by his magnetic good looks and expert wooing, each one realizes
that she is not the Don’s personal favorite but merely a new number on his scorecard. When they compare notes, hell will have no fury like the rage of these women scorned.
Each chapter of Don Juan in Hankey, PA is named for an operatic technique or tradition, and Martin lets us enjoy these dramatic and comedic devices without even feeling like we’re being educated: the missed letter, the melancholic male, the disguised hero, the play within the play, the real love substituted for the play love in mid-act, and a devious scheme by his mistreated lovers to give Don Juan Vasquez a comeuppance that threatens to ruin his performance – and not just in bed.
But all’s well that ends with all the loose ends in their proper places. Even the ghost is at peace at the end of this charming, intelligent and welcome first novel.
Expect more from Gale Martin - she's on a roll.