Metal Angel

by Nancy Springer
Roc Books, pb, 316 pages, $4.99
ISBN: 0-451-45330-1

After reading Nancy Springer's other new book, Larque on the Wing (see Horror #2 for review), I had to read Metal Angel, which shares many of Larque's themes; both books are strongly oriented around gender and family issues. It's one of life's delicious ironies that Springer--whose recent work is filled with homoeroticism and open exploration of the relationships between sexuality and gender--is also writing novels that center on the importance of family and home and all of the other "family-values" issues that the Dan Quayles of the world are convinced have disappeared from modern fiction (and especially genre fiction).

Metal Angel is a much darker work than Larque on the Wing, and a more familiar one. The writing is wonderful--Springer has a lyrical flair for telling phrases--but the story is similar to others which have been done recently. At times, Metal Angel reads like a Christian allegorical version of Gael Baudino's Gossamer Axe.

Volos is an angel determined to escape from the tyranny of heaven, where he has spent an endless lifetime serving the whims of an omnipotent God who only seems to care about humanity. He takes human form to feel what it must be like to live as a mortal, but his carefully thought out beautiful young man's body appears on the streets of Los Angeles with a tragic flaw: his back still sprouts an enormous pair of wings. Undaunted, he sets out to live the hedonistic human life he's observed for untold generations, since Adam and Eve's time. Equipped with a voice and musical skill both honed from an eternity of performing for the Almighty in heavenly choirs, his choice is to become a rock star.

Along the path toward stardom, if not true humanity, he encounters a memorable group of friends and followers: Texas, a West Virginia cop who left his wife in order to find himself and found an angel who needed protecting from the streets of LA instead; Angie, running away from her fundamentalist minister father and placid husband to the rock-and-roll angel who appears in her dreams and steals the lyrics she secretly writes while her husband's at work and the children are asleep; Mercedes, who attaches himself to his newfound demon lover, determined to ride to success like a remora following a shark.

While not entirely unpredictable, Metal Angel has some slippery twists and turns. Its allegory is not heavy-handed, and Springer uses the less explored darker side of Christian mythology for her source material. While there's much of mortality and humanity that Volos failed to see during his heavenly voyeurism, there is also much that humans fail to see in their starry-eyed view of heaven's totalitarianism. While fundamentalists plot to destroy the dark angel (I'm not fallen," he reminds us, "I dove."), even the people who think they understand him approach from fundamentally flawed assumptions, like one young priest convinced Volos is the Messiah:

  • "Please," Volos said. "I'm not--"
    But the young priest went on speaking, intense yet dreamy. "Now they do not want to remember the way he was, you know. They like to forget that he scourged the money dealers out of the temple. That he danced at weddings. That he thumbed his nose at bigwigs, and broke all the rules, and loved women, and liked food, and gloried in wine." "I know those things," Volos said. "I know he was not a candy-ass. I remember him. He was my friend, and I've never forgiven what happened to him. Please just shut up and go home. I am not the one you want." "Take courage," the priest said.
    "Please. No. You know what they did to him."

Inevitably, Volos has his encounter with the religious fundamentalists who want him to be an Antichrist, when he just wants to be a mortal. And eventually, Volos begins to see the shallowness of his own views of the universe--although not without a dark and painful cost to himself and the few true friends he has. Metal Angel is a story of awareness and reconciliation, and much of its story is driven by Volos's growing awareness of what it means to be human, and what it means to be an angel.

I haven't run into Nancy Springer in years, and I miss her. I loved her writing before I met her, and she was one of those unusual people who exactly fills your preconceptions when you meet them.

First appeared in Horror magazine, March 1994.

Copyright © 2004 by Leigh Grossman