William di Canzio’s ALEC is an inspired tribute to E.M. Forster’s iconic gay novel, MAURICE (1971). In it, di Canzio gives the two lovers—Alec and Maurice—not only riveting back stories, but a beautifully articulated origin for their romance, all of which is wrapped up in the historical context of World War I, which was such a monumental time for Forster himself.
Forster wrote MAURICE in 1913 and then significantly revised the novel at least twice, in the 1930s and 1950s. Unfortunately, due to censorship and legalities, Forster chose not to publish the work until after he died. To me, this is one of the most heartbreaking events in literary history, as what Forster created was one of the bravest and most significant same-sex love stories in literature to that time, and it would have been groundbreaking to see it published even sooner and during the author’s lifetime. That said, Forster was certainly right that it likely would have ruined his career (as anyone who has read my book knows, plenty of gay writers were publishing gay stories in the first half of the twentieth century—even happy ones! But there were always stipulations, such as publishing anonymously, publishing with small presses, etc. And indeed, no one of Forster’s stature, save perhaps Charles Warren Stoddard, was attempting it. And what happened to Stoddard when he finally decided to publish his openly gay romance in 1903? His reputation was ruined.)
It is for this reason, then, that di Canzio’s ALEC, which openly and lovingly gives Alec & Maurice the story they deserve, as well as the ending Forster likely wished for them, is such a moving experience. In addition, it’s a superb accomplishment in its own right. Di Canzio’s style and language are rich and provocative, his descriptions resonant and vivid, and his almost defiantly open descriptions of the lovers’ sexual experiences enthralling. Significantly, I think di Canzio does a remarkable job of fleshing out a story left untold, of a particular time, that reminds the reader both how far we have come but also how fragile progress is.
ALEC isn’t just an updated love story for Alec and Maurice, it’s a love song to E.M. Forster, filled with respectful gratitude to a tortured pioneer and with a hopeful eye on the horizon. This is a worthy homage and simply one of the best books I’ve read this year.