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Kameleon Man

by Kim Barry Brunhuber

Kameleon Man, the debut novel from broadcast journalist and writer Kim Brunhuber, is an insightful and affecting treatment of the issues surrrounding race, gender, and sexuality in the 21st century. That it is set against the world of male modeling only adds to its charm.

This is not the glamourous, highly paid, highly recognizable world of the modeling elite that will be familiar from television and magazines. Kameleon Man concerns itself with the bottom feeders of the modeling world, the not-quite-beautiful-enough male models who hang on nonetheless, desperate for catalogue work or free shoots to pad their portfolios. They may be in the gutters, but their eyes are definitely inclined skyward.

Stacey Schmidt is “a mediocre model. Blessed perhaps with fair mulatto skin.” He is also a fledgling photographer who makes the leap of faith into the big league world of Toronto and finds himself a very small fish in a none-too-large pond. Forced into a friendship with a colourful coterie of other male models, and clinging to an on-again, off-again relationship with Melody in his hometown, Stacey struggles against his own limitations and the corruption of the industry while still hoping for his big break, a chance to become the new face of a German blue jean company, Kameleon.

While Stacey’s experiences in the big city – sex, drugs, sex, poverty, sex – have a self-effacing picaresque quality, the tone is deceptive. The light tone of the early chapters, and Stacey’s ongoing perseverance, mask a deeper uncertainty and self-destructiveness that soon comes to the fore. Stacey struggles with issues outside of his control – the still uncertain role of a black male in contemporary society and the role of a mulatto in black society and culture – and those created by his willing participation in an industry dedicated to appearance and image. But Kameleon Man ultimately transcends these particulars. At its core, the novel is an account of a developing individuality, a powerful assertion of self to which most readers will be able to relate.