If there is one constant in this ever-changing modern world, it’s that dating can be awkward, difficult, and brutal. Regardless of gender, age, race, or sexual orientation, dating can make even the most confident individual feel like a loser. In Fires Above Hyperion, Patrick Antangan explores his own dating history—from tongue-tied adolescent to still-awkward middle-aged adult.
Fires Above Hyperion is a series of vignettes, each representing a moment or a glimpse of a relationship in Atangan’s dating experience, from being a closeted high school student accompanying his dateless friend Mildred on her attempt to create the perfect junior prom experience to bad first dates to unsuccessful long-term relationships. Each episode offers not only the author’s memories of the encounter but also a commentary on the realities of being a gay man in the Los Angeles dating scene. Atangan’s own art compliments the first-person narrative, further helping to give the story a unique voice. Scenes are sparse, and Atangan focuses each panel on the people involved, frequently leaving only color and shape to indicate the city or other settings. His figures eschew realism; bodies are drawn more loosely, with faces in profile or in half-shadow. Even his own character is rarely seen directly, as he too is drawn with face divided between light and shadow. Fires Above Hyperion is a visually dark book, in which the primary panel colors are deep reds, browns, and purples interspersed with lighter blues and greens. This darkness can be problematic as it makes some panels difficult to read; black text on a dark purple background does not stand out well.
Atangan, I believe, tries for dark humor in the detailing of his dating adventures, but for the most part, no one appears to be laughing. Rather than finding the foibles and follies entertaining, they seem at best bittersweet and at worst, just bitter memories. While there are occasional comical moments, they are definitely outnumbered by sadder recollections of love gone wrong. But, for anyone who has struggled with finding the Right One, the stories are definitely relatable. It’s the rare soul who doesn’t have bittersweet memories of the one that could have been or regretful longings for the one that wasn’t but that you wanted to be. Atangan captures the human cost of contemporary dating, the constant blows to self-esteem as one always seems to find something lacking that would make those relationship connections work or last.
NBM doesn’t rate Fires Above Hyperion, but it is likely that the novel is most appropriate for adult collections. Its focus on a gay man’s dating history could be problematic for some readers, though there is little actual sexual content seen. However, sexual relationships are certainly implied, and men are seen sharing a bed multiple times. The primary focus of each encounter is on the emotional intimacy rather than the physical, and nudity or even physical displays of affection are rare. The primary appeal of the book is its introspective commentary on cultural standards and the dating scene, a philosophical exploration most likely to appeal to readers who share Atangan’s struggles with finding a mate in a world obsessed with couple-dom. Fires Above Hyperion is a book about the modern American dating experience, and Atangan definitely adds an interesting, new voice to memoirs on this popular topic.
Fires Above Hyperion
by Patrick Atangan
NBM Publishing, 2015