P.J. Vernon’s second novel is a subversive gut punch to the psychological thriller genre. To say Bath Haus is a disaster the reader can’t take their eyes off of is a sugar coating of the calculated and sinister systematic creation of real world cultural traumas Vernon documents under the veil of fiction for palatability.
Substance user Oliver Park has found an idyllic path to sobriety among the high society of Washington D.C. in an intergenerational relationship with his old-money, trauma surgeon partner, Dr. Nathan Klein. When the good doctor goes out of town for a medical conference, Oliver goes searching for a fix in a bath house, a reckless escapade he narrowly escapes with his life – the bruising of his transgression wrapped violently around his neck.
Covering up the details of his assault, Oliver spirals into a rabbit hole of white lies and duplicity, slowly discovering the sanctuary he’s desperately trying to preserve is a perilous house of cards. When a past he thought was long buried slinks into town, Oliver realizes the predator from the bath house isn’t the only wolf trying to blow it all down.
Vernon deserves praise for delivering an unapologetically queer story in a genre dominated by heteronormative arcs. More impressively, he uses the page as a magnifying glass to lay bare the violence perpetuated against, and by, queer men fighting to survive in a community chained to the abuses of cis-hetero patriarchy. Here is an engineered train wreck, operating and colliding precisely as the dominant culture intends.
An asphyxiating read without a safe word, Bath Haus forces readers to face a question unsettlingly at odds with the modern gay rights movement. Is addiction to domestic comforts really liberation?