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message 1: by Ulysses (new)

Ulysses Dietz | 1575 comments Stealing Home (The Charlie and KC Trilogy)
By Tom Mendicino
Lyrical Press, Kensington Publishing, 2017
Four stars

“After David finished talking with Saul, Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself.” (I Samuel: 18:1)

This is wonderfully written, this trilogy of novellas published originally in 2013 and 2015. Tom Mendicino writes with elegance and care, focusing on important details, choosing dialogue so thoughtfully that no words are wasted. He builds his characters line by line, until we know them as well as we know our own family.

Charlie and KC (aka Kevin Conroy) were high school classmates, Charlie being a sissy nerd and KC being the star of the baseball team. They only meet during the summer after Charlie’s graduation, when he and KC find themselves working together for a moving company. KC is already making waves in a regional farm team, and Charlie couldn’t be more surprised to find out that KC isn’t quite as straight as Charlie might have imagined. The only thing that these boys have in common is a love for the music of Ricky Nelson.

Thus begins a relationship that is by turn as tenuous and tortured as anything the Brontë sisters ever penned. The trilogy is entirely about love – love neglected, love lost, love wasted – but it is as far from romance as could be. In “KC, at Bat,” Mendicino gives us Charlie’s perspective as a teenager moving from small-city public school to the hallowed halls of Dartmouth. In “Travelin’ Man,” we see KC struggling to come to grips with who he is, having never been truly cared about by anyone but Charlie (Charlie, of course, having deeply hurt him). “Lonesome Town” takes us a few years into the future, at the very moment when both young men finally seem to be figuring out who they are in the world.

Charlie never manages to stop seeming like an ass. An anxious, unpopular teenager, he inures himself to the tribulations of his lot, but never seems to understand how lucky he is to have a family who cares about him. He somehow evolves from self-centered teenagers to spoiled college boy, emotionally unable to form solid relationships and treating those he should care for dismissively. Mendicino is not doing this accidentally; our ambivalent feelings toward Charlie have been exquisitely crafted.

KC, on the other hand, is a nearly tragic figure, stumbling from one mess to another, confused by his feelings, starved for genuine affection. His almost comical encounter with a Vietnamese-American go-go boy becomes a weird moment of salvation. KC is a character I could only love, helplessly, as he floundered forward in his life. He is guileless, generous of spirit, and puzzled by all that befalls him, but without bitterness.

The only reason this book didn’t get five stars from me is that it left me emotionally unsatisfied and unhappy. That’s on me, not on the author; but the review had to reflect my personal reaction. Mendicino’s trilogy would have driven me nuts if I’d read the books in series as novellas, expecting the sort of gratifying payoff one expects from a series. All three together, however, feel bigger than the sum of their parts, almost epic, and there’s a coherent logic to the finale that works wonderfully as literature, even if it left me feeling oddly broken and sad.

This is the difference between “real” gay literature and gay romance. It’s also the reason that, at my age, I mostly read romance. It’s not Tom Mendicino’s fault – he’s a great writer, and he should be proud of this book.

message 2: by Jon (new)

Jon (jon_michaelsen) | 187 comments You’ve beat me to it; Ulysses! I finished this book last month, but haven’t had the chance to write my review; in three words-I LOVED IT!! I so wish I’d read the stories when first released, but I loved having all together in one volume. I’m shocked this novel hasn’t received more reviews! It even earned a Lammy nomination last year for Gay Romance.

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