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Arcade by Drew Nellins Smith

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Arcade by Drew Nellins Smith

Book Info

About the Author
Drew Nellins Smith’s essays, reviews, and interviews have appeared in many places, including The Los Angeles Times, The Believer, Tin House, Paste Magazine, The Millions, and The Daily Beast. He lives in Austin, Texas.
Publication Date
June 14, 2016
1939419727 (ISBN13: 9781939419729)
A new world opens up to Sam when, fresh from a breakup, he discovers a XXX peepshow on the outskirts of town. More than a mere venue for closeted men to meet for anonymous sex, it’s an underground subculture populated by regular players, and marked by innumerable coded rules and customs.

A welcome diversion from his dead-end job and the compulsive cyberstalking of the cop who broke his heart, Sam returns to the arcade again and again. When the bizarre setting triggers reflections on his own history and theories, he contemplates his anxious, religious upbringing in small-town Texas, the frightening overlap between horror movies and his love life, and the false expectations created by multiple childhood viewings of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Then, of course, there is the subject of sex.

As his connection to the place strengthens, and his actions both outside and within the peepshow escalate, Sam wavers between dismissing the arcade as a frivolous pastime and accepting it as the most meaningful place in his life. Arcade is a relentlessly candid and graphic account of one man’s attempt to square immutable desire with a carefully constructed self-image on the brink.

Editor reviews

1 reviews

Arcade is a dazzling walk on the dark, sleazy side of obsession
(Updated: September 02, 2016)
Arcade is a dazzling walk on the dark, sleazy side of obsession – more specifically, the twin gay obsessions of Sam, the book’s Author/Narrator. 

Sam, not his real name, is a lonesome loser, edging thirty; he is preoccupied with an older cop that he dated before the guy pushed him aside for a nineteen-year-old, live-in lover. 
Although Sam knows the boy’s name, he insists on disparagingly calling his replacement “the kid.” 

When he is not working at his dead-end motel clerk job, Sam is plotting to dethrone the kid and win back the cop. At least, that’s what he’s up to when he is not indulging his second compulsion, a sleazy video sex arcade on the outskirts of his small Texas town. 

Arcade differs from other tales of sexual obsession in that Sam, the obsessed, garners scant pleasure from either of the sexual addictions that compel him. 

Maybe that is because the cop simply wants Sam to leave him alone. In the cop’s eyes, their relationship is an over and done deal that will never arise, phoenix-like, from the ashes. 

Sam is absolutely convinced otherwise, and so he plots accordingly. 

As for the arcade, his phobic fear of contracting a disease – he worries endlessly about getting everything from AIDS to conjunctivitis - makes it almost impossible for Sam to fully enjoy the venue’s puerile pleasures.

Further cramping Sam’s style is his fear of running into someone at the arcade that he knows from the world beyond the sex store’s walls. You see he is mostly closeted. It would not do for friends, relatives, and co-workers, to know where, and with whom, Sam gets his sexual kicks.

Of his book, Arcade author Drew Nellins Smith, now a thirty-something Texan who lives in Austin with his male spouse, has said: “I borrowed so recklessly from my life, not imagining that the book would be published. But if people think the whole thing is true, what…do I care? I vacillate between saying it’s forty percent fiction and sixty percent true, and sixty percent fiction and forty percent true.

“But the more I think about it, the less I really care what people perceive.”

Arcade readers will, if nothing else, perceive talent with a capital T, even if it comes with a penchant for the dark, dismal, and perverse.

I have no taste for such bleak affinities per se; nonetheless. I was captivated by the author’s ability to bring them to gritty, compelling life. The same can be said of his penchant for infusing even the darkest moments with a touch of beauty and humor. 
'Nellins Smith has spoken candidly about the real-life arcade just outside his small hometown that inspired this fiction. “It’s an industrial-looking building with three Xs on the roof.

“During a much more closeted phase of my existence,” he continues, “I would go out there.” Similar to the book’s narrator Sam, the author admits, “I wasn’t much of a participant.” 

In Arcade, Sam constantly tells his tricks, “I don’t do much out here.” And like the novelist, his alter ego Sam is curious about absolutely everything, and so both the author and his fictional counterpart “become obsessed by it.”

When Sam isn’t getting down and dirty at the arcade, or stalking the cop – he even breaks into the guy’s email account, reading correspondences to and from the kid, and then deleting them, or marking them “unread” – as he sees fit. 

All the while Sam suffers the humiliating motel job to which he desperately clings. 

For a while, a motel regular dangles the possibility of a better job before Sam’s hopeful eyes, but the guy is just stringing him along. 
In long phone conversations, Sam reveals his darkest, deepest secrets, desires, and shenanigans to Malcolm, a friend he has yet to meet in person.
Patiently Malcolm listens, mostly uncomplainingly, if frequently judgmental. All the while Malcolm longs to meet Sam in the flesh.

This 249-page, four-star gem, is divided into eighty-four chapters, some of them one page, or less, in length. The word count notwithstanding, each vignette is a highly focused glimpse into the bleak life of a lower middle class misfit, – one who is by obsession possessed. 
If you are looking for hearts, flowers, and romantic interludes, Arcade is definitely not your cup of cupid. 
Whether having a threesome with heterosexual marrieds, or dropping his drawers for a massage hobbyist who rubs him the right way, Sam and Arcade are all about dangers, fears, expectations, and cheap, fleeting thrills.
Taut, economically written books such as this one are nothing new to me. Most of them are entertaining, but they commonly echo books that I have previously read and reviewed, leaving me with a lingering feeling of deja fiction. 

But with Arcade, Drew Nellins Smith has given me, and readers everywhere, something unique, even if its singularity is brewed in bleakness, and served up on the down low.
Top 10 Reviewer 19 reviews
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