Don Juan in Hankey, PA
by Gale Martin

Nothhampton House Press, 2016. ISBN 978-1-937-99771-7.
Reviewed by Ann McCauley
Posted on 09/30/2016

Fiction: Mainstream

Gale Martin's debut novel, Don Juan in Hankey, PA, is a witty, and at times a laugh out loud comedy. I never read anything like it before. Readers are treated to a rare peek behind the scenes of the nearly dysfunctional Hankey Opera Guild. Martin incorporated a stage/screenplay technique by starting each chapter with a short italicized paragraph—setting the scene. The Opera Guild characters include determined flirts, a lonely widower, ingenious manipulators, devious lovers, a lusty gaucho opera star and a few very determined ghosts. They are some of the reasons it is such a fun romp. The author is obviously an opera fan who writes about opera for fun; however readers do not need to be opera buffs to enjoy this novel.

It starts as Deanna, the Guild Chairperson, arrives at the Hankey Opera House early to set things up for an important meeting when suddenly a masked would-be Don Giovanni with a heavy Italian accent accosts her. She barely escapes and arrives at her meeting, limping and late.

Martin introduces her characters, one by one, each with enough individual quirks to remember who's who: The retired doctor, Richard, is the lonely widower, and Oriane, the youngest Board member, and would be Opera singer. Then there's Vivian, the bipolar ketchup heiress, Carter Knoblauch, who collapses of a heart attack immediately after being hired as the new opera director. Also the supporting characters such as Maestro, the moody conductor. Arnaud, is the newest member of the guild; he is a flamboyant conniving gay man, who always speaks of himself in the third person. When denying his involvement in a misguided guild escapade: "Arnaud has no idea what you are talking about."

The Hankey high society characters are well developed, and their interactions convincingly choreographed. The depiction of the nonprofit volunteer boards rings true—as the opera house's threat of foreclosure creates tension. A thread of desperation spins through the novel as the guild members struggle to produce one final great opera—with the hope of turning the locals apathy toward opera into one of opera appreciation.

Arnaud's hilarious seance scene is unique and almost frightening. The young Argentinian opera star mistakes a wealthy opera matron for a hooker and it soon comes back to haunt them all. The three Dachshund puppies, Lohengrin, Tristan, and Isolde, provide another avenue for comedy.

Throughout the novel, their pursuit for love and sex continues to be thwarted in totally unforeseen ways. Gale Martin writes about opera for fun in this charming, intelligent novel. Perhaps there should have been a red box warning on the book cover to warn readers that they very well could become serious opera fans after reading Don Juan in Hankey, PA!

Gale Martin's work has appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, Duck & Herring Company's Pocket Field Guide and the Giggle Water Review as well as several anthologies. Gale won first place in short fiction from the 2009 Writer-Editors International and Scratch writing competitions, as well as a Pushcart Nomination. She has a Masters in Creative Writing from Wilkes University. She lives in Lancaster, PA. which serves as rich source of inspiration for her writing. Gale hosts a blog about opera with features and live performance reviews.

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