Alex feels the sexual liberation in the air and he's always been happy with casual hookups. Why conform to hetero...moreReview posted at The Armchair Reader.
Alex feels the sexual liberation in the air and he's always been happy with casual hookups. Why conform to heterosexual sexual dynamics like monogamy when he's so happy having sex with who he pleases and then moving on? That is, until he meets Bill. They have a wonderful time together and to Alex's surprise, outside of bed as well as in it. Then, after two weeks, Alex finds himself back in the same place, single and alone, but with his perspective completely changed about relationships.
So in a move to cheer himself up and step back into his old life of sexual debauchery and freedom, he heads to his favorite leather bar. While there, he considers the mural in the bar in a way he hasn't before. The sexy sailor, leatherman and farm boy seem almost real…
This rather surreal story didn't give me any clues as to it's final destination. In retrospect, the first part of the story is a setup for what will come later, but as I read it I assumed that this would be a regular gay romp, albeit full of leather, darkroom orgies and well-maintained mustaches. That's what it seemed like at first, until Alex starts to talk about Bill and work through his own issues with sexual liberation and his -- perhaps shamefully buried -- desire for companionship and monogamy. The failure of that ideal, when it seemed so impossible in the first place, makes Alex want to feel utterly fulfilled with casual sex, especially in the face of Bill's post-Alex activities. It seemed to me anyway, that in such a moment of seeming isolation among the crowd, Alex finds his own fantasy in the mural. And his investigation of that shows him pleasure in what he could never feel in the real world.
Okay, seriously though, all analysis aside, this is a pretty hot story as long as you're into some real raunch and dirty sex and multiple, multiple partners. This is pure erotica, which makes the setting all the more appropriate because besides the magical realism/fantasy aspect of the story, the best place for pure, dirty, animalistic, sex is this time period and setting (though it's not ever specifically mentioned, the feeling of the story made me imagine the 70s Chelsea Piers in NYC, or somewhere else known for large congregations of public gay sex). Also, though he has a few encounters himself, I found it interesting that Alex has a pretty large voyeuristic streak. Most of the sex in the story doesn't involve him, except as an active observer.
I like to read an erotica story like this every now and again. Quite a lot of the gay erotica you'll find online seems to feel that the raunchier the better, but I appreciated that while this story didn't skimp on the dirty sex it did provide an interesting plot. But yes, the plot does follow the sex, not the other way around ;)(less)
Dan is with his partner of ten years, Ian, cleaning out his mother's attic space when they come across an old tru...moreReview posted at The Armchair Reader.
Dan is with his partner of ten years, Ian, cleaning out his mother's attic space when they come across an old trunk that very obviously according to it's decoration, once belonged to a young Dan. At Ian's urging, Dan opens the trunk to find memories from his teenaged years -- including one mixtape -- the memory of which obviously seems to mean a lot to Dan. Ian wants to hear the story of where it came from and why it means so much to Dan. He's somewhat reluctant to tell Ian, not because they don't tell each other everything about their past lovers anyway, but because it's a special memory to him.
On their drive home, Dan starts the story and we flash back to 1984, the year of Dan's senior year of high school where he's invited to a house party of a friend now in college and learns that another roommate there is Russ, his friend from high school that he lost touch with when he went away to college. Dan always had feelings for Russ, feelings that he had a hard time exploring. Russ was all around perfect -- really cute, brave enough to come out, very smart and an incredibly talented artist - where Dan feels he's none of those things. In fact, he's still in the closet and totally scared of anyone finding out about him.
The story continues when Russ and Dan start talking at the party, and when one thing leads to another and the rest of the guys decide to move the party elsewhere, the guys are left alone in an empty house. Dan is suddenly faced with the assurance that for the first time something is going to happen and totally excited that of all guys, that something is going to happen with Russ Hill. Then he puts in the mixtape...
In some ways I can see where this might be a disappointing story for some. There's really no romance and not much plot here. The story is basically Dan recounting a night in his past for his partner, but we don't learn a lot about that partner. In fact, we learn a whole lot more about Russ than we do about Ian. I found that to be a little sad, not only because it would help the story so much to have an understanding of the present day and Dan's relationship with his partner, but also because I have a feeling that while Dan may have fond memories of his first time that Russ probably wasn't as interesting as Ian. Maybe I feel that way because I wanted to know Ian better, but I also wanted to know the man that Dan has spent 10 years with rather than the boy that he spent a night with.
I labelled this as Contemporary Erotic Romance, but I didn't feel that it was in particular a "romance" nor that it was "erotica". We don't get a romance because the man that Dan is with isn't really known to us, and his relationship with Russ isn't really enough to constitute even a failed romance, and his first sexual encounter isn't really even particularly that erotic, just some playing that, for sure is a big deal for a first time, but otherwise not as much.
At the same time, I have to give this story props because even with all of those things I've written I still really enjoyed this story and I didn't feel that in any particular area it really failed in a big way (except with present day Ian, which I talked about). This story read for me as more of a short gay fiction story, whether the author intended that or not. There's a happy ending, but it's not part of the story we really read about, it's because we know that today as the story ends Dan is in a happy place. In 1984, his one night with Russ Hill is overall a bit disappointing. Still, I found the emotions that Dan has about that time in his life to be appropriately subtle in many ways across the board -- fondness, sadness, memory of his excitement and his overall disappointment. Even more than that, I gave this story a whole extra point (star…what have you) simply because that whole encounter between Russ and Dan was so real. You can feel Dan's nervousness and his excitement and the feeling that something out of control is happening to him but which he'd never ever say no to! And at the same time, you can at once see the dichotomy between them and their experience. Dan is fresh and overwhelmed and Russ is experienced and nonchalant and at the same time just a little bit jaded. He's obviously glad he got Dan into his bed, but I (as the reader) got the feeling that to Russ that's all that really mattered. Dan, as this is something he looked forward to and wanted for so long automatically has deeper meaning for him. That is something that he doesn't figure out until later.
Honestly, I didn't expect a whole lot from this story because I don't know this author. I assumed that this was a new author, thought she apparently isn't and I just wasn't familiar with her before. In the end, this is a mixed bag for me. Some of the writing was really excellent, but some of the story crafting was disappointing. So So
Oh, before I go! Has anyone else been listening to the song when it pops up in the story? I put it up on iTunes whenever I read one of these stories and when they put the mixtape in and started.... well, you know, and "ah, ah, ah, hah ah... I know this much is truuuuee" I started CRACKING UP LAUGHING ;) I was born in 1984 so this song, instead, just made me think of "The Wedding Singer" with Adam Sandler instead!(less)
I didn't quite understand what Rolf and Ranger were trying to do until I remembered the name of this story. And the format (twelve short sho...moreBrilliant!
I didn't quite understand what Rolf and Ranger were trying to do until I remembered the name of this story. And the format (twelve short shorts with Christmas as their only common denominator) works beautifully for such a large cast of characters, especially since so many of them are still partially unknown to us, or we only know them from third-hand information through the main characters. Getting to see them like this, their history in just a moment captured from one Christmas in their past or present says so much about each one of them and introduces us to a lot of new information. Wade, especially, is someone that I feel I have a completely better understanding of now.
And the format really works and must have gone over really well, as seen with Rolf and Ranger's most recent FCR short story release, "Jackson High", which has the same vignette format.(less)
I had to request this for review as soon as I could because, hello.. rocker book! I, like many of you, just can't...moreReview posted at The Armchair Reader.
I had to request this for review as soon as I could because, hello.. rocker book! I, like many of you, just can't get enough of them and it seems like there's one every month or so that comes out (sometimes fewer, actually) and it just enough to curb my appetite until another is released. So, I started reading this as soon as I got it and it did it's job in getting me to next month's (hopeful) fix. I didn't, however, love it -- and the reasons are purely subjective. I'll outline those, because in this instance I'm sure that what I don't like about the book is something that some others will.
This story is split into two major parts. The first half of the book takes place in the 90s and covers the genesis of the band King Phoenix and the relationship between Scott and Ash. The second half of the book details their rise from ashes, not necessarily professionally, but personally. I was worried at first, because the book starts with a prologue in the present day and then jumps back to the beginning of their story (the 90s) in the first chapter, and I'm really not a fan of flashbacks. I always get nervous when I feel one coming because it takes a very talented author to juggle the art of jumping back and forth in time and lose the momentum of the story. Thankfully, this dodged that by cleanly breaking the book into two halves, which mostly worked for me, but wasn't without adding to another difficulty I had with the story.
I felt at odds much of reading the first half. The story covers several years in the rise of the band, from their initial formation, through their bar playing days and then into superstardom and world tours. That is a large chunk of time and much of it was glossed over. I felt a bit like I was stuck between a rock and a hard place, unable to decide if I wanted more or not. Because so much time as glossed over, much of this was exposition -- the author detailing what has happened since the last shift forward a few months or a year ago and then a swift narration of where things stand. More often than not there was a summary of events rather than a scene in present time. That frustrated me, because I never felt like I really got to know Scott and Ash as a couple. However, I was also thankful in a way, because they were both so.messed.up that I was reluctant for the story to completely drop into their lives. By the time of their real success their relationship has become a casualty of the rock and roll lifestyle and fears of band breakup, and I just couldn't decide whether I could have dealt with the real angst of that situation. As it is, we see it, but because we're somewhat removed from the situation -- only getting pieces of them here and there over months and years -- it isn't nearly as intense as it could have been.
So I was happy, in a sense, when time jumped forward to the present around the halfway mark in the book. The situation the band was in, like a pressure cooker growing more dense and dangerous, was ready to explode. And I was happy I didn't have to read the direct fallout of that. That meant, however, that the characters went their separate ways, which saved all that hurt that was never dealt with for another time. And those feelings just fester over the years. I think that this was what I had a hard time reading the most. While the author doesn't create a classic Big Mis situation, it does have many of those hallmarks, which was frustrating for me. The Big Mis(understanding) is, of course, where characters have a falling out for lack of a better term over a miscommunication, or misunderstanding and only deal with it later, realizing how stupid they were (along with us realizing how stupid they were). And I felt like though this were a real situation, not something stupid which is where the term The Big Mis is usually awarded, it hinges on a technicality, a decision made by a few very secondary characters. I don't think this will actually bother many readers as much as it did me, and many might not consider it a Big Mis situation at all. But the effect of those decisions by the characters and the author in how the book is paced and structured directly correlated to the amount of angst, which is my hot button.
So, that's why this was a difficult read for me. There are parts that I certainly liked. The last bit of the book was a nice read for me, one a lot of the issues between Scott and Ash were worked out, but I never quite settled into the book and I never really warmed up to the characters. So, if you like your rocker books with a bit of angst, and maybe a tale of second chances and characters making up for past mistakes, then I'd say give this a try. And try not to gauge my feelings about the amount of angst in a book against yours, I'm probably way more sensitive than you ;)(less)
The blurb pretty much tells the story here and there is little for me to add to the overall summary of the plot. Still, what seems like a somewhat unoriginal story from the blurb is made unique out by fresh prose and lots of attention to detail. When the story first starts, set in 1992 at Shady Ladies bar filled with drunk 18 year old graduates, the setting is clinched immediately by firmly grasping the time and place of the scene. Music, the style of clothing and hair, and most of all the attitude of Will, an early-nineties goth punk who thinks he different from everyone else in the world -- the world being Cumbria, Northern England -- grasped me and sucked me into the story.
It's true, The One That Got Away plot line isn't exactly original. This story is structured in three parts, each 9 years apart (1992, 2001, 2010) which is usually very difficult to transition between. There is so much time that passes and pieces of life between those times that are so very important in a romance, where the emotional maturity/growth of the characters needs to be seen. I was happy and surprised to see that this wasn't a problem at all for this author. Part of that is the immediate setting and place that I mentioned before. Another part is that each time we see Will and Rob in a new time and place, so very far from where we saw them before, they've changed quite a bit. There is a wealth of detail and the writing is very tight, without any excess that would water down the story needlessly, so it doesn't take much time for the Clancy to set a scene and fill it with sensory detail.
I wavered directly after finishing the story if I should give it a B+ or an A-, and though it came close there is one reason this story isn't an A read for me. I felt like I knew and understood the characters and I was really happy that my original assessment of this author (who I reviewed a christmas story by at my own blog last month) is that she's a great new addition to our genre with a knack for good writing. But this story didn't reach beyond the relationship and the characters to stick with me. What is there is wonderful, something that I thoroughly enjoyed reading. But I needed to feel just a little more affected.
This is an author that I encourage readers to get to know. I'll be looking forward to what she writes and publishes in the future!(less)
It is 1966 and Eddie is secretly gay. Not too far out of high school, he has a job at a paper mill in Green Bay,...moreReview posted at The Armchair Reader.
It is 1966 and Eddie is secretly gay. Not too far out of high school, he has a job at a paper mill in Green Bay, Wisconsin and spends his time with his four friends from school watching the Packers' pre-season practices at Lambeau Field. They all love football and are die-hard fans of the team but don't have the money to afford tickets during the season, and are lucky if they ever find the money to make it to one game a year. So they use their connection to the team to watch as they gear up for the coming season. Eddie's best friend among the group is Jack -- their strong friendship forged among the schoolyard bullies that taunted Jack for his hearing disability.
Eddie's secret takes fruition in his desires for the new player Johnny Grant, older and the embodiment of masculinity. When Eddie's bike has a flat and Johnny offers to give him a ride home, they become friends, all with Jack watching on -- and waiting.
Anyone who knows me and sees my weekly reviews at Brief Encounters knows that I absolutely love short stories. However, if there is one major complaint I have about the majority of them in this genre it is that they aren't true shorts -- the pacing is all off and there's usually way too much story, a novel in less than 20k words. So I get nervous before I start each short I read, hoping that that isn't going to be the case. I mention this because that is really the strongpoint of this story; the length was perfect for the story. It came to it's natural conclusion without feeling forced into a specific format.
This was really a delight to read. Not only did it surprise me (from the blurb I expected something different, and I loved how it played out) but I found the detail to be very well done. I suppose when you write a story or novel there is always going to be someone out there who is familiar with your setting or subject. In this case, I happen to be very familiar with Green Bay. Though I've never lived there I've visited extensively over the past 15 years. I suppose you could say that things have changed since the sixties, but in this case I don't think so. There is mention of the area around Lambeau Field and Kroll's. Even more than that, however, it really felt like a small world when I read that Eddie worked at a paper mill making toilet paper. Both my father and I have actually worked for the place I know he's talking about, visited that mill (though it has changed over the years with mergers and the like). It is strange when you come across details like that.
This is sweet and cute and definitely a story that I recommend. Even though I like this author, in the past I seem to have either loved or hated his books. This one was a delight to read.(less)
Reminiscent of Mad Men's 60's New York City ad agencies, spirited pitches, and back room (or gentleman's club) de...moreReview posted at The Armchair Reader.
Reminiscent of Mad Men's 60's New York City ad agencies, spirited pitches, and back room (or gentleman's club) deals, The Kaiser Account focuses on Evan Jones, prize pitch boy favorite son of the ad agency and his silk green tie. Used to pump up his confidence, Evan seems unstoppable and consistently wins over clients. He has it almost down to a science, even so that he can spot the man whose account he needs to win over the smoky dark lighting of a strip club 10 times out of 10 -- that is, until he meets Mark O'Brien. Mark is renowned as a ladies man who seriously likes to party. The only problem is that Evan doesn't know how much Mark likes to party with men as well as women, and when Mark starts coming on strong, Evan sees a future with his secrets spilling and the foundation of his carefully planned heteronormative life crumbling, all if he lets Mark know that he's already taken the bait.
I have to admit, that I have bought several of Louise Blaydon's works, but never gotten around to reading any of them. For over a year I've heard about her wonderful writing and was happy to take this chance to see what I thought with a short story. For the most part, I liked this story. The writing was certainly fabulous -- she shows in this story a flare for detail that really comes alive in the story (the tale of the green silk tie taking precedence here, giving the story a spin right out of the gate). I suppose I would have been a bit more satisfied had I not been expecting a romance, but a mere connection. As the story is, I wouldn't fault it, but perhaps I would have changed my expectations a bit. Readers should know that this isn't really a romance, but more of a liaison. This makes sense for the time period, where both characters watch carefully over their shoulders, especially when they could be in real trouble. As Evan says (in regards to the boss' daughter, whom he's expected to marry at some point):
Danielle was a beauty, and she deserved better than him, but if she didn't want better -- and she didn't seem to -- Evan figured he could live with that. After all, it wasn't as if he had many other options. It was 1965 and free love was ostensibly on the rise -- but free didn't quite mean what it purported to, even to the hippies. And Evan was definitely not a hippie.
There is a hint toward an HFN, but more likely personal growth for Evan. The encounter serves to broaden his horizons a bit. Where previously he's only had rough fumbling with other men in back alleys, the chance at something real with another man hasn't seemed to cross his mind, and real happiness for himself outside of making a success of himself through his career seemed impossible. To settle for the Straight American Dream is all he's allowed himself of his future. I understood this as the real focus of the story -- there isn't supposed to be a real hope of a lasting relationship with these two men (though I'd love it if it were, they were extremely hot together), but for character growth. There is a chance that Evan can now find happiness later in life, if this one encounter can serve to successfully skew his perception of himself. In that sense, this story succeeds wonderfully, and that works for me. Still, I know other reader's would be a bit unhappy with this and perhaps don't' like to read stories like this, so I will warn those away and other's perhaps to tailor their expectations.
As the story is, the characters and writing really shine. The sexual tension is written exceedingly well, building almost through the whole story to a fever pitch. I like the "loose morals" type of character in this era, but without becoming the Mad Men archetype. Even Mark, whose POV we aren't privy to seemed fully fleshed to me, perhaps because he seems like such an open and easily readable guy. I like how Evan's tie signifies the suit of confidence he puts on and strips off when he needs it. There's a significant dichotomy between the two Evan's presented, the one that charms the clients in his sharp suit and green tie, and the almost nervous and unsure guy he is when it comes off. The two together have a huge amount of chemistry.
I definitely recommend this story for the right readers, and I'll be dusting off some of this authors books that I've had languishing in my TBR pile and reading them very soon. Well done.(less)
You know, more than any other story from last year's Hot Summer Days event put on by the GoodReads M/M Romance Group, I've heard amazing things about this one. I've always wanted to read it, but you know how things go, certain stories, no matter how wonderful they may be, end up getting pushed back to read shiny, newer books or stories. I was so happy that Kaje Harper was taking part in our Canadian Authors event, because the chance to finally read this story ended up being one of the best things that could have happened. Who knows how long it might have been before I had time to read this story? A lot of you have probably read this by now as well -- it certainly has an amazing overall rating at GoodReads and was probably one of the most well known stories to come out of that event last summer. If you haven't though, I'm here to tell you that it is up there with the best shorts I've read in this genre, and for me, not only did Kaje seem to make all the right choices in telling this story, but those choices together transcended the sum of it's parts, having a really solid and touching message of love overcoming obstacles.
The story is told as one long memory, bracketed in the beginning and end by the couple, Jack and Sean, as a committed partnership in the present. One look in Sean's eyes over a morning bowl of cereal brings back the memory of how they met and how their floundering, socially challenged relationship came to be during the 80's. It is peppered throughout with liberal references to music and pop culture, grounding the story in the time and told through the lens of a star-crossed, college and townie, West Side Story pairing. Jack is a scholarship kid to a liberal arts college in the middle of nowhere, corn maze Iowa, and Sean is a local mechanic, running with the townies and secretly gay. They first meet during a clash of the two groups involving paint, vandalism and almost bruised knuckles and proceed to form a unique and private relationship away from the town's judgmental eyes. But the fear is always there, that their secret will come out and they'll have nowhere to go, trapped in a situation that seems to have no salvation, the only choice to fight or flee.
I think what is so successful about this story is the balance that Kaje Harper uses to bring the pieces of this story together. There are the cultural references that automatically stand out to anyone who lived through the 80's, which is going to be most readers. There is also the balance of choosing which scenes are most important when writing a story that has enough there to fill a novel. Then, there is the balance of scene to narration. Narration is such a great vehicle to bring forward a character's voice, but it can be so often overly used, in which case we feel cheated out of experiencing the story along with the characters. Of course, showing vs. telling is a basic lesson for authors to learn, but it can also be difficult to balance properly when you are employing narration with the use of memory or flashbacks, especially when the story covers years. I think that it is a difficult thing to pull off well, but Kaje Harper seems to really have a handle on that -- I've read several works of hers that she's done this very well. Still, I think this story showcases the talents of her writing the best.
This really is a powerful story. If I didn't have to worry about spoiling anyone's enjoyment, there is a lot more I would talk about, especially the character's decisions in the end of the story, which surprised me with their bravery and was a bit humbling to read. I respected the hell out of these characters and I thought they were genuine in the way they came across to me.
I think that this is also a story that we can all really enjoy because it is about a time that everyone (hopefully) has in their lives. A memory of a summer, or any time in your youth where the world opened up and there were choices before you and your life seemed full of endless possibility and joy. Through that, we connect with the story and characters and understand what it is then like when that idealism is tempered with reality and we inevitably become a bit jaded. Those memories never go away, and pulling them out, dusting them off, and revisiting them gives us a little hope. To read a story like this, for me, was a different way of connecting with that endless spirit of adventure.(less)
This was an all-around heartwarming read that I really enjoyed!
Anthony is an A-List Hollywood actor who wakes up on the day of his 50th birthday alone and regretful. He has everything now that he thought he wanted -- he has a brilliant career that he got by sacrificing everything that would now make him happy as his career naturally declines with his aging looks. He spends that evening at a fundraiser for Berkeley, his alma mater as a guest of honor and runs into his old flame. Well, Rob is the only man that Anthony ever really felt he could come to love, and they never even got to have their first date. All those year ago in college, he finally wore Rob down until he agreed to a date, then stood Rob up for an audition that turned out to be the big start of his career. But seeing Rob again brings up all those old feelings, especially seeing Rob on the arm of another man. He wishes he could go back and change everything, now that he's realized that having Rob would have meant so much more than fame, fortune and adoration by millions.
This second chance story is a very, very common plot, but one that is sort of tried and true. It seems like every other year another movie comes out with this same plotline. I think that these authors (who this is their first published story, by the way) could have easily changed this plot to make it new and exciting but I'm glad they stuck with the simplicity of it. The writing is solid and very easy flowing and the story works because since we've already seen this plot over and over, the story becomes about the characters, and I really liked them.
Anthony is the one that gets a second chance here. He's our narrator and as the story moves through time we get to see him at different points of his life. From, at 50, almost tired and in a since finally grown up, but way too late -- to back in his college days, where we get memories of how shallow and driven he is towards his career, then shown through the light of his newfound understanding after having gone back in time. This is shown well through the first meeting after the time shift. Rob is Anthony's Shakespeare tutor and even while Anthony has been trying to wear Rob down and get him to date him, he's also been shallow and he doesn't care at all about Shakespeare, preferring new, modern words and roles to play. He doesn't understand Shakespeare at all, nor try to. Seeing him then, after he's in effect finally matured to Rob's level (now being a 50 year old in his young body), he understands and uses Shakespeare to show Rob that he's really serious about life and getting to know Rob. That was one of my favorite scenes, which worked well as one of the scenes where the character is shown just a bit out of place and time.
I'll definitely be reading anything this duo publishes in the future. LIke I said, I really enjoyed this story because it didn't try to mess with such a solid and well-known plot. Other's might disagree, because this is a story that we've read and seen in movies before. Still, the characters here make this story original, and I really enjoyed them. I don't really have any complaints and I'm happy to give this story an A- rating!(less)
Anthony is in love with his flat-mate, Karl. It is 1980 and their friends are dropping around them. They are scared, but they show it in different ways. Anthony, who tells this tale of new love half through epistolary journal entries and half through narration, withdraws into himself and his journal, where his varying emotions can become melodrama in secret. Karl shows nothing — at least through Anthony’s perceptions of him — but the continued love of partying and friends and his hipster lifestyle. Yet both have secrets that they are afraid to share with the other.
I was actually quite impressed with this story from new author Maggie Veness (I could only find one previous anthology story by her from 2008). There are some things that she has done very well with this story (the narration and the subtle clues of the larger picture) and some that needed a bit of work, namely the dialogue, which at times felt forced and stilted. Yet, for a new author this short format suits her, as narration works quite well in short stories. Here we see the narration through Anthony’s voice, his love for Karl and the excitement and fear of Karl finding out. That type of situation practically breeds melodrama, but here it was confined to the short journal entries where private melodrama is allowed. What little we learn about Karl and Anthony is delivered through the fear of the time of HIV outbreak, and is delivered by Karl’s spoken fears about meeting someone new, about falling in love and fearing what wanting that so badly means.
Though it is a snippet of their time together, it shows the beginning of a relationship that is steeped in secrets that beget more questions than answers. Honestly, I would have thought this story would work well for the Bittersweet Dreams titles at DSP, however, that does not mean that this story has an unhappy ending, simply unresolved and hinting at a troublesome future. In fact, I thought the subtle hints at the larger picture were done quite well, and certainly didn’t fall prey to the sometimes heavy-handed writing trap that new authors can fall into.
Maggie Veness is an author that I’d certainly look forward to reading again, just to see what she might be able to do with a longer story.(less)
First released in 1991 and re-released last year by Lethe Press, Getting Life in Perspective tells the life story of three gay men. Rick Carton, an editor for a Boston gay-oriented publishing company, has watched many friends and past lovers die at the hands of the latest monstrosity sent to plague gay men, AIDS, and now has been told that he has a similar disease in symptom, though somewhat different and lesser known, yet which is slowly killing him just as surely. His dire prognosis is leading him down a path of self-actualization in which he realizes that he's living a life that never dreamt of. Most of all that upsets him, though, is the fact that he hasn't found love in his life, though he's had plenty of sex, and he seems to have lost the wonder of seeing the world in the way he once had during his youthful days marching for human rights throughout the 60s and 70s. Urged by his best friend to take a holiday for his health, he retreats to the Texan countryside to help prepare a old rundown Spanish estate for sale, and hopefully, find inspiration to create the novel he's always wanted to write.
The country is good for him. Breathing fresh air and working in the garden is not only healing him physically, but spiritually as well. So comes the day when he takes the advice he'd given in the past to young writers as he sits to write his novel. He imagines sitting down and having a conversation with his characters and letting them tell him their story. Like the creation of a tulpa, two men emerge. Ben comes first. He is the embodiment of all that Rick has ever been attracted to and he is remarkably insecure at first, like a lost little boy begging to be understood. He tells Rick his story -- his enrollment in a Jesuit seminary in the 1890s and the subsequent feelings of otherness. As he continues his tale through seminary, the downfall of his family, his life as a tramp and the shanty towns along the rivers on the way to Chi-town, Rick also comes to meet Tom, another man/character sprung from his consciousness (or the land he now resides?), who has braved his mother's care and death, then the loss of his job with the failing economy. Now untethered and dreaming of the adventure he could not pursue while his mother was dying, he buys a train ticket to Chicago where he hopes to meet his childhood friend Johnny, the only person who he felt ever really understood him. Like Ben, Tom tells Rick of his adventure -- of meeting Literature professor Eli Hauptmann on the train and his subsequent discovery of the alternately sexual community of scholars, poets, artists, and philosophers of the late 19th century.
Told in alternating viewpoints between the three men, and spanning two different times of transition in American and gay culture, the story follows the fated meeting of Ben and Tom and their search across the West for a place to live peacefully and Rick's own parallel discoveries of life, love, and the pursuit of the Clear Light, a place of new perspective in the ever present mortality of life.
There is so much I felt while reading this truly beautiful story that I feel as if I'm bursting at the seams. I've only read one previous book written by Toby Johnson (with Dr. Walter Williams), Two Spirits (reviewed here). Like that book, the storytelling here is superb. Essentially a coming of age novel, no matter at which point each of these characters are in their lives, this is a story of adventure, of learning from life, and understanding. It is a story about the history of all marginalized groups everywhere and their slow, perpetual work toward the benefit of their community and humanity. This is a story in the vein of the Bill Moyers interviews with Joseph Campbell -- a dialogue of sorts challenging the nature of the ever-changing mythos of homosexuality. And lastly, this is a story about finding love and having the courage to accept that sometimes it breaks all the rules.
Though I must say that I find gay spirituality a fascinating topic, I'm still a lover of stories at heart, and the real heart of this story is the journey undertaken by Ben and Tom. Though their era is often referred to as a simpler time, their personal experiences show that misfortune knows no restraint by the era in history. Ben and Tom face trial after trial in their youth, until they learn to embrace the margins and take up residence there with what they previously believed were the dregs of society -- tramps, hobos, queers. Their love story is triumphant because they truly love each other, which is consistently shown in this story to be a spiritual birth. Their journey is meant to be instructive, not only to Rick, but to everyone, that love should be treated with the same reverence a priest would give to God. As a product of that joining between the two of them, they nurture each other until they ultimately overcome the fears that were previously strangling them. This is possibly one of the most obvious themes -- the hero's journey -- which among others, are stamped across the pages saying "Joseph Campbell was here."
The only real difficulty that I had with the story is that the narration often strays into what a character from the later part of the novel calls "sermonizing." I sometimes felt like the fourth wall had broken down and I was in a seminar. Now, that depends on the reader whether the subject interests them enough to enjoy it or over look it if they don't. While I found the discourse interesting at times, it often repeated the same theories from different angles all at the same problems, which made the reading sometimes tedious. Thankfully, I loved the rest of the story so much and these parts, though while often, tended not to last very long. To some extent, this is to be expected, as Toby Johnson set out to write a Gay Spiritual Romance, which by nature means that he's starting a discussion with the reader. I simply wished that sometimes I had been left to discover the message on my own, through the characters' journey.
I must admit that I feel a bit ashamed after reading this novel, that while I thought I was very up on a piece of my own history, I had largely based my knowledge on the queer movements of the 60s-80s (from Stonewall to Homosexual Theory to AIDS marches on the Reagan administration). There is quite a bit of information here, all set up as a story within a story within a story -- a nesting doll of comparative experiences among gay peoples that spans time. It might be helpful for some to have some knowledge on the subject, though definitely not needed. While I find the teachings of Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung, and the like interesting, I must say that I know quite little about these teachings, and some of these texts (the Upanishads for example, are referenced quite often), yet it didn't diminish my understanding and enjoyment of the novel, no matter how I might have sometimes wished for a lighter delivery.
This is certainly not a light read, and you should know that this book is meant for more than enjoyment. It isn't quite heavy, though, especially in the way that Two Spirits was sometimes difficult to read. There is a brief attempted rape (I refuse to read non-con, yet this did not bother me), and those who are sensitive to religious issues might take heed. I do, however, encourage those who might balk at the idea of this story to try the book anyway. Even if you absolutely hate the spiritual discussions, the story within is a gem and Ben and Tom are characters that grew to mean very much to me. The secondary characters alone are reason enough to read the story. The numerous shades of people Ben and Tom meet on their journey remind me so much of Cormac McCarthy's characters. They're simply a delight to read. Though I marked off some points in my review, this is definitely a keeper, and I plan on reading it many times in the future.(less)
**Note: This review is for the audiobook version**
This is a story that I've been meaning to read for a long time now. It might be one of the first m/m romances to end unhappily, before the whole Bittersweet subgenre came into the community. But for all that the ending is glaringly at me, so obviously, from the moment the story started didn't mean that I enjoyed it any less. In fact, the lessening of some of the surprise worked to show that the story still had impact but without unduly caused angst.
Told from Will's point of view, the 28 year old mechanic in a small town in Texas, the short story spans almost a decade while Will watches Bran, the new kid in their apartment complex who just won't leave him alone, grow up before his eyes. Bran is everything that Will wasn't at his age, smart with opportunities. When Bran leaves to work the Texas ranches out of town, he changes. The man that returns is completely new and totally enthralling to Will, who has kept his day to day life completely separate from his gay lifestyle. Their relationship has to change with the feelings between them and there might not be much time for that to happen.
The beauty of this story is that it shows, without pomp and grandiose romance, how loving and being loved in return can change another person. The line, "one more soldier" refers to the street soldiers fighting at home in the US for gay equality, mirrored by the very real battles across the world that have lost the respect of the masses propagating the changing cultural climate. I was most impressed by the small details that snuck into the story that evoked the time period so well.
I had a difficult time driving while listening to this one -- I should have known! I knew it would be sad, and in a way listening to it helped me instead of reading it. It's like, I'm so used to avoiding angst or unhappiness in my romances now that to listen to it made it easier to deal with. Plus, it was only really one part of the story. Here is where I did have some problems with Jim Bowie's voice. Where it worked well with the past book, not so much here. The voice of Will as he recounts this story seemed so different from Jim's voice that it clashed for me. While I think he does a pretty good job on his own, and his voice is certainly dreamy, sometimes that isn't what I have in mind for the character, you know? So I wish there were more diversity in readers, but then I'm sure it could have been a lot worse too! I'll try not to be too picky.**
The time period, the length of the story, and the fact that it is told in past tense, lend the story to a certain recollection type narrative, heavy on style and voice that immediate sets the mood for melodrama. And I mean that in the best sense of that word.(less)