Title: The Wilde Passions of Dorian Gray
Author: Mitzi Szereto
Publisher: Cleis Press
Genre: Fiction, Paranormal, Gothic Romance
Length: 214 pages
Published: November 19, 2013
Inspired by Oscar Wilde’s classic novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, Mitzi Szereto’s Wilde Passions of Dorian Gray continues where Wilde left off with the Faustian tale of a man of eternal youth and great physical beauty who lives a life of corruption, decadence and hedonism. The story begins in the bordellos of Jazz-Age Paris, moving to the opium dens of Marrakesh and the alluring anonymity of South America. In his pursuit of sensation and carnal thrills, Dorian’s desires turn increasingly extreme and he leaves behind yet more devastation and death. He ultimately settles in present-day New Orleans, joining with a group of like-minded beings known as The Night People. They inadvertently return to Dorian his humanity when he falls in love with a young woman he rescues from becoming their victim. She will be his redemption, but she will also be his final curse.
To take a classic work like The Picture of Dorian Gray and basically continuing on where Oscar Wilde left off is a pretty daring thing for any author to do. Mitzi Szereto obviously has a love for the original tale. It shows in her mastery of Wilde's romantic and flowery writing style, but she also makes it her own, such as what she does with this re-telling.
As one would expect from a book about the dark, elusive, and hedonistic Dorian Gray, this is far from being one "fluffy" or "uplifting" novel. It's no "redemption story." It won't make you feel all warm or fuzzy either. The Wilde Passions of Dorian Gray takes you on a roller-coaster ride through one man's rise and fall in trying to live life to the fullest without restraint, limits, morals, and rules. In Szereto's tale, Dorian's corrupt and decadent life takes the reader from the bordellos of Jazz-Age Paris, to the opium dens of Marrakesh, and to South America. There's a lot of sex, a wide array of sexual encounters with many people in all walks of this gothic life, drug use, and violence. Anyone who has read the original novel wouldn't be surprised by this: the violence is pretty heavy, and there are many questionable areas of consent in the mix as well that may make readers squirm. It's all sexually charged in a pretty over the top way, in true Wilde/Gray-fashion. If you're expecting a resolution to all this, then a most important point would be missed. As Wilde has written in the Preface of The Picture of Dorian Gray, "All art is quite useless." So, essentially, the art of being corrupt and bad is also useless, and is meant to be enjoyed for what it is. That's The Wilde Passions of Dorian Gray in a nutshell.
Mitzi does a wonderful job at summarizing many events in the original tale to where you don't necessarily have to read that first to understand what's going on in her "sequel" of the work. One should, of course, if they haven't already, because then this retelling can be more appreciated in how well the author pulled this off. Sure, there isn't really a whole lot of "meat" to this story when it comes to plotting. It's basically an erotically charged and violent/hedonistic romp told in the point of view of a man who has eternal youth and an insatiable appetite for corruption, decadence, and hedonism. Dorian is far from being a likeable character, so you won't be rooting for him or his decisions, and yet, he still manages to inspire us even today. The pacing of this story may be slow for some, but it does suck you into the mood/feeling of the scenes that definitely brought me to the times. I know at first glance one wouldn't think that this is erotica, but it is, whereas the original story wasn't, so one has to keep that in mind. This book doesn't necessarily titillate or arouse, though, in the way you'd expect from an erotic novel, so that may pose some problems for some readers too.
The Wilde Passions of Dorian Gray is a hard book to recommend, but I think it's one that is easy to at least, if anything, appreciate. The essence of Oscar Wilde and Dorian Gray pops out of the pages. It's dark fiction that dabbles in the paranormal. The story/plot really doesn't go anywhere but down with absolutely no ambition to lift the reader up. But in the fashion of its era, that's the point, and the author and this book does that triumphantly. This book won't be for everyone, but it isn't supposed to either. If you want to take a read through the dark side, this is it, and it's so worth giving it a try.