What was supposed to be a joyous birthday celebration for Pezhmun turns into a tragedy on several fronts. First, a strange visitor calls upon the family’s remotely located abode and lures Pezhmun into the forest. There, the visitor reveals herself to be the Queen of Lust and tries to attack Pezhmun. He flees to the safety of his home, but that illusion is soon broken when his mother reveals that she has fallen in love with another man and leaves Pezhmun, his sister, and their father. When Pezhmun finally explains what happened in the woods, the family seeks shelter with Pezhmun’s aunt and uncle.
For the next many years, life is tough. Pezhmun’s father remarries and his new stepmother bears no love for the children of another woman. Pezhmun himself turns to selling his body to make ends meet. In the intervening years, he’s grown from a chubby little boy to a stunningly attractive man and has no trouble finding customers. But Pezhmun also has a secret love—secret because a man falling in love with another man is often deemed a taboo. When his stepmother and father discover this aspect of Pezhmun’s identity, all hell breaks loose. Fearing for his life, Pezhmun runs away…but the outside world is no safer. Not only is he betrayed by a physical manifestation of his own deeply hidden feelings, his own father turns on Pezhmun for being gay and his stepmother wants to kill him on behalf of the Queen of Lust.
Only with the power of his inner chakras can Pezhmun hope to save himself…and maybe fulfil his destiny as the King of Love. But that is a long, difficult journey and success is never guaranteed.
The main story in The Handsome Twist is fashioned like a fairy tale based on the events of the author’s life. In fact, there is an introductory chapter that details several major events in Ghiassi’s life and it’s easy to see how these events serve as markers for the action in the book. Readers should be aware that the story includes references to the author being raped and the character, Pezhmun, also suffers sexual assault/rape on page.
The style of The Handsome Twist is like nothing I’ve encountered before. Ghiassi has a way of writing prose that makes extensive use of synonyms and metaphor. Some of the most common examples are when Pezhmun’s eyes are mentioned, which happens rather a lot. Instead of “Pezhmun looked around” the phrase could be styled “[Pezhmun was s]cattering his sapphires everywhere as fast as he could.” Other metaphors for eyes were “peekers” and “blinkers.” There is also a lot of alliteration. One side character is referred to as a “Blizzard-brailed broad,” for example. The variety in name/pronoun alternatives and alliteration do make for an interesting read. On some levels, this creative use of metaphor and alliteration helped give the story a fairy tale feel.
As creative as the writing is, I think there are some significant issues with it as well. First, there are a few slips into stream-of-consciousness style that disrupt the flow of action. I was flummoxed when I started seeing a few “I”s peppering the pages and offering commentary about the author’s apparent ADHD in the middle of a scene. If The Handsome Twist were a comedy or this perspective shift were used to sort of “book end” chunks of the text, it would have worked better for me. But as is, I thought it read more like an awkward breaking of the fourth wall and for a purpose I could not discern. The other element that distracted me was the way the metaphor heavy prose seemed to clash with aggressively modern vernacular. It didn’t work for me because I am expecting a fairy tale taking place in some long-ago time and there are witches and kings and queens and magic…yet many times, characters’ dialogue feels overly modern.
As far as the story itself goes…well, it is a fairy tale, so there is a lot of leeway as far as how and why things happen. It wasn’t necessarily difficult to follow the action, but I think the writing style did make it more challenging to follow along. And there are a few pretty big jumps in logic. Like how exactly Pezhmun grows up and finds himself in a position of having to basically be a sex worker to stay alive. I didn’t think that was explained at all. Or the whole deal with his inner chakras, which are actually manifested as people outside his person and act as guides…? Despite how disjointed the plot feels at times, everything is organized linearly, so that at least helped me follow along. However, for readers who are interested in a fairy tale-like story with a focus on the love story…I think you’ll be disappointed. Pezhmun has a few love interests in this story, one of which was actually used to fantastic effect. But the real love story doesn’t start to take shape until almost the very end…and it ends on a cliffhanger.
Overall, I thought The Handsome Twist was interesting and challenging to read. The writing style was not really to my liking, but the juxtaposition between what I expect in the prose of a fairy tale and a modern, queer retelling of one was fun to read. I admit, at times, the book just didn’t hold my interest because it wasn’t necessarily clear to me how the action moved from point A to point B, but the final chapters bring a sharper focus to the story and leave readers on the edge of their seat with a surprise cliffhanger.