REVIEW: CEILI by Moriah Gemel

Ceili by Moriah Gemel (March 17, 2016); 200 pages. Available from Interlude Press here.
There’s a place called Ceili that is a hangout for folks who are hiding a secret from the rest of the city. They can go, drink, sing, let down their guards, let others know them. Their differences will be accepted there, and there they can find common ground with others who share their secret, too.
No, it’s not a gay bar. I know how you think, because it’s how I think.  It’s a place for Fae to congregate in modern-day L.A.—Fae are all sorts of magical folk (faeries, Sirens, and the like).  Difference is okay there; non-normativity is the norm.  The story begins when Devon, a struggling singer/songwriter, wanders into the bar by chance one night and discovers his own connections to the place—he’s Fae himself, yes, but he also has a strong attachment to the proprietor, Eldan, and a real sense of belonging when he’s there. Plus, the drinks are pretty good (they’re magical drinks, so I assume they’re good).
Ceili tells the story of Devon coming into himself—figuring out his identity as Fae, finding a place in which he just fits, finding the courage to stay there and make it his home.  (This might sound a bit familiar to some of us aging gay folk, and it should… A stand-up comic once said that “homophobia is the fear of going home’’—it’s funny because it’s true, but it’s also true that most of us gay folk have to work harder than others to find a sense of home and belonging and realness. It’s why The Wizard of Oz is all about that. The idea of “home” is really charged for those of us who are so often excluded from one in one way or another.)
It might be no accident that so many of our stories as gay folk are told as sci-fi and fantasy stories, as stories of Other-type beings and learning to live with (and even appreciate) difference, of discovering one’s true nature and finding a community and a way to live in it happily.  It also might be no accident that “Fae” (at least as I hear it in my head) is homonymnous (if that’s not a word, it is now) with “fay,” as we gays used to be called.  So often, straight culture seems to misunderstand gayness as a search for sameness (after all, the prefix we all accept, “homo”, means “same”). It’s why the preponderance of mirrors and doubles in films about the Horrifying Nature of the Gay (go on, rewatch Hitchcock’s Psycho).  But it’s really our difference from straights that makes us problematic.  It’s our Otherness, the fact that our lives and loves so often don’t adhere to the pattern we’ve all come to accept as normal. Fantasy and sci-fi seem to revel in that potential difference.
So, to heave myself back on track: Ceili is a love story, a slow, planning-into-love story between Devon and Eldan. But it’s also Devon’s story of figuring himself out, finding his place.  It’s also Eldan’s story of mentoring and leading (both Devon and the larger community).  It’s also the story of the community, of Ceili itself, of how such a place can survive in a largely hostile world. It’s a lot of stories, all braided into an addictive, enticing read.


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