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SkinnyDippingIntoBooks

Skinny Dipping Into Books

I like the rain. I want to have a spring bookworming rain party full out with wellies—but not those Hunter Boots; absolutely not—, with yummy airy things like puffed pastries, meringues, mini fluffy cheese cakes, mousse dessert, macaroon, biscuits, crepe, and Earl Grey tea, definitely Earl Grey tea.  and Tillandsia. We'd have lots of "air plants". Lots! And We'd read, but not anything structured. We'd bring books, trade books, read out-loud, pass books around between sentences and paragraphs. We'd leave with books we hadn't discovered.

 

I like books like I like my Jazz; euphoric, dangerous, occasionally a bit manic, sorrowful, bleak, raging, mood-incongruent, mournful, unforgivingly ragged, symbolic in a quiet way, warm apple pie for the soul. Give me a Plath style. Yōko Ogawa, M. Roach,


Criteria: Not rated on likability of characters. Not objective. I like Moxie Soda; chances are you don't.


time spent in that before bed reading slot:

5-until blurry eye 4-Later than I intended, but I still kept to my extended, extended reading time 3-I really should have been to bed an hour ago  2-customary 30 minutes. 1-book. side table. eyes closed.


How are common themes handled?

5-With an aesthetic that repurposes everyday themes into something fresh. Think of Hole Celebrity Skin covered by Cat Power  4-there is a comfortable air of familiarly.
3-Deja Vu 2. No deviation from its mates  1. Devastatingly trite, redundant, and stale.

Where would you keep it post-reading?

5-Next to my bed.  4-it's the center piece of my favorite bookshelf 3. On my other favorite bookshelf, but it's a bit dusty over their 2-Great cheap bookends 1-It never made it out of the box marked 'moving'.


Emotional response-

5- Where is my teddy bear? Emotional-hangover 4- If I wasn't so emotionally stunted I'd cry.
3. Did James Cameron co-wrote this? Artfully contrived. 
2- calculative emotional manipulation. This was literally written by James Cameron.1- I…feel…..nothing.

Mechanics (plot structure, voice, presentation, word choice, sentence structure, characters, writing style, pacing, and consistency):

5-Chanel 4-Prada 3-J-Crew 2-Gap 1-Old Navy

Currently reading

The Complete Stories
Flannery O'Connor
I am No One You Know
Joyce Carol Oates
Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls
Alissa Nutting, Alissa Nutting
Something Like a Love Song - Becca Burton
  I could take this review in two different directions. I could be a brutal dickhead or i could give the author some slack because she is all new and green to writing and publishing…. I’ll go with the latter, but that doesn't mean I'm going to be all sun shine out of my ass kind.

Landon and Dylan’s story is one that is tragically part of the fabric of the gay community—and the LGB-etc, but for the purposes of this story… right—, a trend that has steadily increased, and fiction that explores this has significant value.

They met in a college library, by way of a very adorable, blush inducing saga involving procrastination, a morning deadline, and a need for a specific book. It was stupid, pretty much unbelievable, but cute. their relationship blossomed over cheap liquor, a movie, the bravado that spurs from cheap liquor and a movie.... and being two horny guys.

They moved in together, and if it wasn't for the location, a big city and an apartment, you’d most likely see picket-fences, in fact id reckon that this was the urban version of a house w/ a picket-fence, and the annoyingly cute gay couples that live in houses with picket fences.

While the author portrays their area as a very welcoming, accepting location, with a myriad of folk of different distinctions, homophobia always lingers. And, unfortunately, on a beautiful night, slightly chilled and the fellows out for gyros, the two held hands in front of the wrong people, a situation that was further complicated by the two making out in a dark, sinister alleyway. I mean i’ve had… made out in alleyways, but this one seemed like the wrong choice from the start.

An incident occurs, leaving both injured, but more so Landon, and the climb from a crisis event, through the trauma left in its wake, fractured the once perfect couple—and if you ask me a bit too perfect…. a bit too annoyingly perfect. the details we get, which are pretty concrete, don't really illustrate how Dylan could escape by with a shoulder injury, while his love is basically humpty dumptied.

I’ve not read much about brain trauma, but that is exactly the injury sustained by Landon, and the reader is brought through the entire thing; from the ER to the conclusion. And ultimately this is about the resolve and resilience of those around him, as well as he himself. Hope, Loss, Change, FORGIVENESS. It’s about a shit load of forgiveness. Self-hated is all over the place.

Problems fester.

it’s very introspective, very in Dylan’s tortured head. Page after page in his head. Page…. after… fucking… page.

The beginning is all sorts of really fragmented narrative, and the perspective is chunky, going from one character to another, and then back to huge lengths of Dylan’s introspection, daily events, feelings, etc, which lead to a lot of me, “please shut up, now!”. The problem with this, with this sort of wide, uneven focus on one character then being thrust back into Dylan’s head for long expanses of time, is that it screamed newbie author, but also subtracted from the overall impact of Dylan’s personal relationship with the incident, and his growth— in understanding love at a deeper level, as well as his own mental and physical healing—. The narration matured as the novel progressed, and the author did seem to get a better grip on method, yet it still felt terribly disconnected and the changes in POV were abrupt and not as seamless as it should have been.

Secondary characters, especially the mom’s and dad’s, started off fairly strong, with Landon’s being the most neglected, but eventually they faded out, and with Dylan’s mom, a character that was so prominent that their relationship screamed enmeshment, the phenomenon of having her fade out was amazingly awkward. And the neat cleanup to explain the absence of landon’s father was too clean, too perfect, too obviously a throw in.

And the lame older brother, distant and all emotionally not available and the protective sister? all tropes that are so frayed, so over used, that it’s just sad to see them reintroduced here.

A backstory of the incident, and also Landon and Dylan’s relationship as it grew from an awkward tug-of-war with a obscure book (this in itself was just weird), to them moving in with one another, and further into domestic life together, are explored in individual chapters, many of which are only a few pages long, rather than having the information interspersed throughout the novel. Ultimately this too added to a feeling of disjointedness.

For two characters in college and beyond, there was sure a lot of cutesy annoying dialog. I have to say, if I acted like this in front of anyone, even my mom, i would be eventually backhanded (more so by a friend) and asked to go sit in the car until I showed a semblance of maturity. We read references to fights, but rarely encounter them, and the dialog between them was so puke-worthy middle school dating scene.

There were also portions that were derivative, particularly Janessa the nurse/caregiver. Something about her rang too close to ‘Me Before You Lou’. Maybe it was her coolness factor and her bonding with Landon, or maybe it was how critical Landon’s family was over her youth, but something, something had me creating parallels in my mind until i couldn't separate the two.

PTSD, a space widely neglected, and that is a pity, was, when focused on, pretty fucking accurate, sad, salty and gnawing, yet, because it bloomed so close to the mid and end sections of the book, i didn't feel that I got to really experience any of Dylan’s real emotional trauma, which resulted in me feeling disconnected from him, even though he went on and on AND on about how sad and guilty he felt. Yet, the sections on his PTSD were almost pitch perfect, and the scene in the park, with all its tied togetherness with the incident and the triggers (fireworks, smells, etc), albeit a bit trite and textbook, were remarkably strong.

the brain injury part, the details of the progression of it, and the therapies involved, was pretty much perfect and really engrossing, so props for that! total props!!

While there are frankly some very reckless things in this book that the author must shoulder, it isn't terrible in comparison to many of the more seasoned authors, such as the remarkable ethical issues in Bill Konigsberg’s work, or the complete bewilderment of how things could be THIS boring as exemplified by Jeff Adam’s ‘writing’. This is not, by any measure, the worst experience in YA M-M you’ll have, and you can really sense that when she gets her footing, she is going to throw down some pretty good shit. So i would suggest bookmarking her and following up on her future work.

My heart wants that week back

My Heart and Other Black Holes - Jasmine Warga

I am not going to say that suicide has become a popular topic, because it hasn’t, and still deserves much needed attention, but there has been far greater instances of it being picked up as a topic. There is a wide girth written about the topic of suicide, particularly adolescent suicide, on the research side. My Heart and Other Black Holes is one such example, and it differs from many of the other novel available in that it is YA. My Heart and Other Black Holes is about 16-year-old Aysel, a math wiz, dork, and overall outcast. She is introspective, but when offered an opportunity to interact with others doesn't have any particular hesitation. Looming over Aysel’s head, and swirling in her subconscious is the ‘event’, the thing her father did. the awful thing. the, ultimately, poorly constructed, lackluster, and silly thing that has pushed her towards suicide idealation. Everyone, from students to the community shun her, furthering her feelings of isolation, and her mother has remarried, casting Aysel aside. The mother-daughter relationship is basic, and left me wanting more. Enter Roman. I particularly hate this name, so that didn't help anything. He is your manly, two dimensional personality like that of your uncle that is sitting on a worn couch when you visit, and likes to talk about the timing it takes to grill a burger, which inevitably means you are drunk on whisky just enough to phase him out. He is, even though i hate this word equally with the name Roman, angsty. the sort of nephew that wears a wool hat inside, and you are so tempted to give him a face wedgy (yeah. I am making it a thing). Remarkably enough, through a brief, cursorily browsing on a suicide partner website (they exist, and i don't know if I'm frightened by this or not), they find they are in close proximity. The small town is booming with this weird, again hick-esque, ‘friday night lights' sort of obsession with football that, that uncle above would salivate over. Cheer leaders, sports participants, pretty people, they all hail as dominant soldiers in the adolescent world. Roman is one of these, or at least he used to be, and the attention he gets worries Aysel, and she questions Roman intentions. Off to a rough start, as you can imagine planning killing yourself w/ someone else would be, they slowly puzzle piece with one another—although much of these pieces are shoved together. 
They pick a location, pick a time, well R does, which coincides with the date of the incident causal for his wish to commit suicide. And everything sets off in motion. There were other people out there in Aysel’s world. There were tiny, almost indistinguishable reason behind Aysel’s mother’s complete disregard for her daughter, and with a dynamic this poorly hashed out, with a topic of suicide, it was almost criminal. Beyond that was the step-daughter. Of course we need a counterpart to sad clown Aysel’s, and this is where darling gorgeous, desired (whatever her name was) comes in, and it was this contrast that I felt dragged depressed people into an area of ‘lesser than’, of not being desirable, of being easily ignored. We see this all to often in young adult lit AND WAY OFTEN in adult lit; the depressed person that is faulty beyond his/her emotional state and it’s incredibly shitty of the author. It’s just so bloody lazy, Warga. The weird dynamic reminded me of the sisters in Tell the Wolves I'm Home. Oh, Oh…. then we have Roman’s (puke… still hating on that name) mother. That mother that lushes over her son, all concerned because, again, in Warga’s world of stripping character sheets from the wall of, ‘Stack Overflow’, we need a direct contrast to Aysel’s mother. Concern. bonded. Love exuding from every pore. And it gets sickly boring. The novel meanders, all these little mistakes, trivial, redundant tropes, and contrivances along the way, and with that the continued reference to the ‘blackness’ in Aysel, because, we get it, we need to really ramp up the meaning behind that title. But… But…. Jay there were these… all of these… “What people never understand is that depression isn't about the outside; it's about the inside. Something inside me is wrong. Sure, there are things in my life that make me feel alone, but nothing makes me feel more isolated and terrified than my own voice in my head.” and this one: "Depression is like a heaviness that you can’t ever escape. It crushes down on you, making even the smallest things like tying your shoes or chewing on toast seem like a twenty-mile hike uphill. Depression is a part of you; it’s in your bones and your blood. If I know anything about it, this is what I know: It’s impossible to escape. “ and then this one: “I spend a lot of time wondering what dying feels like. What dying sounds like. If I’ll burst like those notes, let out my last cries of pain, and then go silent forever. Or maybe I’ll turn into a shadowy static that’s barely there, if you just listen hard enough. “ which i think really slams down hard the conflict between killing yourself and not killing yourself. Way after the faults in ‘living for others’,— being so steeped in thoughts of suicide amplifies just how much that notion, of living for others being paramount, revolves around shame and the way people can't really understand why a person would need to/want to kill him/herself—become blindly clear, is the torture of before/while/after. And the above quotes really ‘gets it’. See that, that there? that’s real writing, and a steep contrast to: “I wonder if […] had the same black slug inside […]”, “if you cut open my stomach, the black slug of depression would slide out.” “The black slug lives inside FrozenRobot.” “Good job, black slug.” Eight references in all. Maybe I’m wrong; maybe teens replace the word ‘depressed’ with some sort of metaphor. It’s like… you get it, author…. oh wait… you don’t… There are of course the equally careless moments when you get that whole ‘romanticizing suicide’. Look, I don't believe in this whole way of conceptualizing difficult subjects, and disagree with some people who continue to use this label as a way that may or may not reference their own subjective experiences with mental health. And I get it; when you suffered and others haven't really ‘gotten it’ it’s a slap in the face to see it in any terms that may favor the feeling(s) you get when you really get it… right? So this… "You're you. You get it. you get all of it. And you're sad like me, and screwed up as that is, it's pretty beautiful." He reaches over and brushes his hand across my face, touching my hair. "You're like a gray sky. You're beautiful, even though you don't want to be.” and this… ““There’s something poetic about the fact that the first boy to ever ask for my number is the same boy I’m going to die with.” …wouldn’t really sandpaper my skin, except for the fact that one thing in particular didn't really happen in this book, and that is a full examination of suicide. Yeah we got the darkness. Yeah we got the internal monologue. Yeah we got the shame, to some extent. But what else beyond some superficial scrapping of the topic,what else beyond that which has ALWAYS been explored in novels circling suicide, did we really learn… did we really carry with us? barely anything. Equally important, and this is where I’ll slip my hand around the phrase “Romanticizing (bla bla)”, is the genre. This is young adult, and while this genre is all the hot stuff with adults, young adults will find this book. young adults will read it. It’s in the young adult section. It’s on the young adult lists. It’s one of the rare books in this genre that focuses on suicide. So this quote: "You're you. You get it. you get all of it. And you're sad like me, and screwed up as that is, it's pretty beautiful." He reaches over and brushes his hand across my face, touching my hair. "You're like a gray sky. You're beautiful, even though you don't want to be.” Really gives me pause. Sure, the mutual connect, and that feeling of bridging the gap between ‘this is only me. i am the only one that feels this way’ and ‘someone understands. I am not a unique butterfly’, is valuable, and really genuine shit for anyone whose actually been depressed, and talked to a friend who really, truly has been depressed, and furthermore those in support groups. Because those are options, right? So i don't know, given the wide utility of the notion of ‘i share this with someone else’ what my issue is, but perhaps it’s that every other thing in this book had some sort of counter weight, that it had a fat finger on my ‘potential trigger’, bell. Side note, author, if you would have broached this in a therapy setter, then, right, you could have easily injected a lazy, ‘but…”. But, Jay, are you forgetting these?: “"My teacher, Mrs. Marks, makes this big production out of trying to decode what the poets were saying.From my perspective, it’s pretty clear:I’m depressed and I want to die. It’s painful to watch all my classmates tear apart each line, looking for the significance. There’s no significance.Anyone who has actually been that sad can tell you that there’s nothing beautiful or literary or mysterious about depression.” Yes, but readers of review, I wanted, think there needed to be a bit more of the above. Then this gem of a “WTFFFF” “Even though Aysel and Roman have nothing in common, they slowly start to fill in each others' broken lives. But as their suicide pact becomes more concrete, Aysel begins to question whether she really wants to go through with it. Ultimately, she must choose between wanting to die or trying to convince Roman to live so they can discover the potential of their energy together.” and the fucking ending...

Hat Not...

Hat Trick - Jeff Adams

To say this is sort of a mess is like saying wearing green with red together should only be sort of avoided on the other 364 days of the year; it’s a freaking obvious.

First persons are tough, and I am tough on first persons. They need to really support some fucking stellar primary and secondary characters, or they just wither and die.

This one, in essence, is a wither and die-er.

It takes place during senior year. Simon, our classic closeted Y/A character fancies Alex. Simon, who assumes this is all unrequited love, evades expressing his affection until one night the two are at an away game. It is all ‘boy scouts camping trip’ scenario stuff.

Alex and Simon fall hard for one another, but, like many of these sports themed gay Y/A books, it must remain quiet. And things are relatively calm at first. They keep things all covert and secret agent, until they confide in Jackson, who is one of their best friends. But this is cool, because of course Jackson is all set on being THAT ally.

While these two youngins fall in love, Simon has to deal with a tumultuous family unit. Simon lives in a neglectful and abusive family unit. This is a freaking understatement. His brother reminds me of Buzz Mccallister. I KID YOU NOT! He is one of the worse, most contrived characters. His dad is portrayed as this flat, emotional, reckless husband and father, and we are hit over and over the head with this so many times it’s unbearable. We get it; he’s a dick. The element of the 1950s submissive housewife just beats this even further into the land of tortured and overwrought novels.

And even though Simon and Alex are careful, their secret gets out. The Buzz Mccallister look-a-like brother is at the center of this mess. The repercussions are big, huge, maasiveeeee, some would say all soap opera like. Others would say, “this was published?”

Eventually the team finds out, and we see the expected results. The news slowly makes it’s way to the rest of the school, and rather than being totally closeted and scared they embrace the coming out; well, almost. Alex’s family is supportive for the most part, and so are a few other families. There is the rising risk of harming their potential college futures, and as time proceeds this chance increases to an almost certainty. There is homophobia, especially from teammates, yet it doesn’t really hit anything realistic. Relationships are changed, but in an unrealistic extreme sort of way.

What proceeds is absolutely ridiculous. Simon’s abusive brother is implicated in an assault and murder and his father engaged in something straight out of S. J. Watson’s cookbook. J.H. Trumble’s beautiful Don’t Let me Go is clearly a source of inspiration, with scenes almost replicated from its pages. We have a dance where men dance with men as some show of comradery and support  (think Out of Pocket YMCA) and there is partner abuse. The way it's written is almost sickeningly familiar. We also see the same sort of ‘wrap up’ interview style ending that faulted Out of Pocket. It is all sorts of irregularity and carbonic paper.

The theme of hockey is handled well, and for those who read the blurb and think this will be heavily submerged with sports references, fear not, it is handled lightly and in a way that contributes to the overall story.

Characters do share individual voices, but that isn’t especially difficult when the majority of the writing is saying rather than showing and when info dropping is adopted as a second skin. The novel is shrapnel for typos, and the lack of dialog tags is dizzying. The weak writing coupled with a poor attempt at character development makes this almost ‘Another Gay Movie’, laughable. Something Like Summer was successful with this because it embraced its campiness, Hat Trick, however, read less as intentional attempt at laughing at itself and more of a lack of focus, which I ended up laughing at.

The Vast Fields of Ordinary - Nick Burd

This is another Y/A novel that sets the standard of a boring and trite approach to the genre and one that follows the same trope of gay youth need to suffer to evolve.

The book begins with Dade, a 17 year old closeted guy scrawling a middle school-esque Name + obsession on the inside of a bathroom stall, during, all things prom. This sets the stage and the obvious atmosphere for the novel. Here we go again, I thought; another sad guy whom of course is going to get all self-injurious on his emotional and mental wellbeing.

He is hooking up with Pablo, a guy people at the school refer to as the sexican, or some foolishness. There are a myriad of problems with this relationship, the least being that Dade is being used for sex. Pablo sets the stage as an abusive person, and through emotional manipulation that he almost seems to relish in, he levies hurt on top of hurt on dearest Dade. Pablo is ‘straight’, but you probably already assumed that.

We have the disjointed family, because that hasn’t ever been fucking done, in like, a billion gay Y/A novels. Dad is, except a puppet automaticness that is cold but poorly rendered, detached from Dade’s life. They interact, but it is very much the same sort of relationship Dade has with Pablo, except for the fucking. It is just emotional neglect at it’s finest. Mom, a hippy sorta gal, is almost complacent with the cheating, and of course this leads her to drinking and pill popping. Together the parents are tyrants against Dade’s self-agency, self-esteem and integrity.

He meets a guy, Alex 22, and becomes infatuated with him, and their relationship hits hyper-drive pretty fast, which I considered pretty accurate considering the void that loneliness lends to turning off the rational and logical switch. This is his first legit loving relationship; so let him get a little overzealous. Yet, Dade is still eager for Pablo’s abuse, and most often he even admits it, but yet still ends up in situations where he acts like a sponge for verbal assaults, physical violence, and, well spit.

Alex and Pablo orbit Dade’s life with a whole ying/yang thing going on. As soon as Dade finds himself comfortable, conscious of his own securities, growth nourished by his relationship with Alex, we see him back into the glowing love of Pablo, either by his own volition, or through the spontaneous, and often aggressive persuasion of Pablo. For the most part, however, Dade continues to victimize himself. Then it rotates back into the safety of Alex. And repeat. We didn’t even need this, at least not to this extreme. Alex reflected a normal amount of distance and hesitation to engage in the relationship, and given Dade’s annoying amount of insecurity, this would have been enough to sustain a sense of uncertainty with himself and his relationship with Alex, and his sexuality. I believe a skilled author would edit down the whole Dade/Pablo escapade, and bring some of those aspects into the Dade/Alex relationship. It wouldn’t take much to have Dade’s damaged goods to inflict conflict on his relationship with Alex.

We see this trend of ‘give me more, give me more, abuse’ throughout, and with other characters. Dade internalizes things, over intellectualizes, and it is with this method of processing that put him in the center seat for blame. Call him a faggot? He feels at fault. Don’t suck a guys dick and potentially avoid a rape scenario, well, that too is another situation where he feels guilt. For fucksake.

He eventually comes out, navigating this pretty well, and accepting the public attention of either those championing it or criticizing it. His parents pull the same freaking card that is often so imbedded in this genre that I doubt most even recognize it; but we, the parents, are victims here. The true nature of this narrative is one that reinforces the destructiveness of coming out. Look, I don’t expect anyone’s coming out to be like mine, that fucking jolly goodness that I experienced. I do expect a reasonable departure from the cookie cutter crap.

There are many secondary characters, but they are either incredibly one dimensional, or so over the top in one given emotion that it’s true stagnation. Sterilized down, we have the warm welcoming jock, a few ’60s versions of hope and wellbeing, bitchy asshole jocks, Barbie’s that are also bitches, those that victimize him and still get away with it, a warm and cozy guy who has to also deal drugs, and a cool, chill black dude. It is all so ‘The Fosters’, and it’s bloody annoying.

Very little happens here. Those that continue to harass, berate, and victimize Dade neither evolve, nor do they experience any retribution; if anything I expected it to escalate, but nope. Poor Dade experiences homophobia, and Pablo has a better response to this, and the letdown of hearing Alex say he will protect him and not follow through once required, understandably hurts Dade.

Dade’s notion of love remains on the precipice of disaster at his own hands, and, since his concept of love remains more obsessive and fast-tracked, he doesn’t take time to sit back and accept things as goodness, but as something he needs to consume as quickly as possible. His parents, the only secondary characters that achieve something beyond paper cut out dolls, rotate in the stereotypical roles of one absent and distracted and the other angry and reactive.

Jenny Moore… Of Jenny Fucking Moore. Throughout the story there is this secondary storyline of a missing girl. Her body hasn’t been found, but people have seen here, and in the weirdest places. First there was a sighting at the tree line of a golf course, then the balcony of an old independent theater that shows black and white movies, and then Dade swears he saw her when he was drunk and on one hella circle stumble around his yard. It all feels very significant; very meta in its own way. We expect it to hold something important, to help us escape the ordinariness of this novel. It doesn’t, though and crashes and burns in the last chapter. Suffice it to say this bestowed very little on the overall plot, if anything at all.

Dade’s abrupt life transition at the end of the book is off kilter, and it reads as an epilogue that outpaces the slow, lethargic writing of previous sections. It is, as many have pointed out, just plain ole telling. I know as of late that there is huge controversy over telling versus showing, but I still believe that a book is more effective if the author adopts a style that is more showing than telling. With the wrap up of Jenny and the ridiculously abrupt finale of Pablo versus Dade—which, btw could have been totally more successful if it wasn’t all pissed on by telling—, this ending was a bright explosion disaster.

Another issue is the depiction of ‘teenagerness’. Yes, it had a lot of drugs, drinking, violence, etc, but it was so vague that it rarely went deeper than surface level. This didn’t lend well to character development, nor did it help drag the storyline up by its armpits. It flattened it. It wrecked it. It felt more like an author writing from an objective, detached place, rather than really getting into the heads and lives of these characters.

Here we find sex as the biggest issue. Yes, it isn’t important to know exactly how it went about, if Dade’s a top or a bottom, but to skip the details, the Circus Soleil of both body parts and mind, is a huge fucking disservice to this genre and those readers exploring sexuality. We never really felt Dade’s eagerness or lack of eagerness to have sex, the mending of bodies and what it meant to him, and the meaning making behind the event post-sex. Ok, we did, but not enough. As a result, I as a reader could barely contrast the differences between Dade having sex with Alex versus that with Pablo. His troubles with Pablo made no difference, because there wasn’t anything to weigh it against. Sure, we got the physical reactions Dade had to Pablo’s advances, but because the focus was on the casing rather than the undercarriage of emotions, I had a case of ‘get over yourself Dade. It’s your entire fault’, because all I had experience with was emotionally-reactive-self–imposed-victim Dade.

We learn that Dade’s fantasy of writing a book about the summer, of not changing names “to prevent the innocent, because everyone is guilty. Especially me”, was actually what was going on, and he is in college telling us all this. And there we finish with the guilt; again with the guilt and victim blaming. It is terribly sad that he hasn’t weighed through the experiences of that summer and begun to understand them from a place of growth, maturity, and equally, understand and accepted his role, and forgave himself. Then again, in that short little piece at the end, we see very little growth. I would expect him to conceptualize guilt as a thing that includes taking responsibility without self-hate, yet there is very little evidence that he is even headed in that direction.


Out of the Pocket - Bill Konigsberg

Fucking groan. Mother fucking groaninggggggg

Everyone knows my distaste for Openly Straight, primarily due to the narrative of a gay man being able to conceal or change his sexual identity, but also my strong distaste for the writing style. Surprise! the same author wrote this novel. Frankly, I am astonished that this book has coveted such a wide following and particularly surprised by the high accolades it has received.

It is one thing to compose a novel that is contrived and derivative when compared to similar books of the same genre. It is an entirely different thing to write a novel that is both contrived and derivative when compared to the author’s own work. Out of the Pocket is essentially Openly Straight. And here’s why….

Openly straight adopted the concept of ‘closeted’ by transplanting a gay man to a new school who conducts a ‘social experiment’ by hiding his sexuality. It’s simply just a weak plot device that results in the same thing; a closeted kid. With Out of the Pocket we have another male character, Bobby, and again with high athletic prowess. The difference here is that this novel is overwrought with sports references and discussions of sports. He is legit closeted, with no hidden gimmicks, but suffers the same redundant identity confusion found in Openly Straight. There is also the same configuration of friendship, before and after ‘coming out’, which is discussed later. We have a Mr. Scarborough in Openly Straight, but this time he is a counselor, both times serving the same purpose as a segue between closeted Bobby and out Bobby.  

Bobby is extremely popular, but escapes the standard jock attributes—mainly assholeness— that we all know these guys (most) really act like in high school. He has successfully navigated a straight life by ‘dating’ one of his closest friends, Carrie Conway. The symbiosis of the relationship is barely, if at all understood. The author seems terminally unable to convey why Carrie, who flirts with Bobby relentlessly without the smallest amount of reciprocation of intimacy, is even part of this charade.

Bobby’s ceaseless struggle with his sexuality leads him to disclose his sexuality to a clumsy, and ultimately totally irresponsible school counselor. The author tries to provide room for philosophical conversation revolving around the permanency of sexuality and embracing it, but this seems like a meager attempt to heighten a flat plot.  It was almost, almost as pathetic of a secondary character as Mr. Scarborough in Openly Straight. It was also at this point, that, when coupled with the premise of Openly Straight, that I questioned if this author had some sort of alternative agenda.

He reveals his sexual identity to a friend, and of course, being teenagers this gets all sorts of messiness, and even though it is revealed to some fairly deceitful individuals, it somehow remains contained, until a reporter comes on the scene.

From then we have your typical high school forced coming out fallout and the rush to cycle through the five stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining (sorta), depression (throughout), acceptance (cause let's make it all cute and neat)—that is so goddamn trite with these premature coming out plots, especially with those in the Y/A genre.  

One of the major, but poorly composed secondary characters is hit with a chronic disease right at the onset of Bobby’s coming out and this is ultimately disorienting and muddles an already weak plot. It is also dealt with poorly.
 
Within this typical plot sequence Bobby encounters the standardized hate; a ‘you faggot’ here, a brush off there, rejection from his teammates, hate from members of opposing teams etc.  It is all so cookie cutter and safe.

Fortunately dearest Bobby is rich in his position in a power over paradigm that the blow of homophobia is extremely limited. All sorts of secondary characters lean on post-outted-Bob, and his feedback is neither constructive nor negative, it just exists unnecessary on the pages. Most of the school rallies behind him and it is as unrealistic for the situation as it is harmful to young readers (more on this later). For example, his teammates, many of them who wanted him thrown off the team, arrange a whole YMCA dance-athon in the locker room. It is both moronic and doesn’t jive with character development. Some of his friends are highly supportive of his coming-out, some waver, while a few totally reject the notion of accepting him. This again was boring and formulaic, the secondary characters showing little to no depth.

We have the customary ‘this hurts me more than it hurts you. You aren’t gay’, parent and we have the overly compensating ‘I am so proud of you’ parent.  

Bobby also meets a mysterious man; one year older and out, because the older, more mature, more experienced out gay man as the partner of the closeted guy seems to be a necessity in Y/A coming of age novels. Rendered in what seems like pencil scratching on a pharmacy receipt, this character stalks Bobby, quite literally just appearing at times. It is at these times, particularly one point on a beach, where I get the feeling the author scrambled, hastily grasping for anything to continue the story. There is barely any intimacy between the two, and the intimacy that shared is so muted, so monochromatic that it read as bug repellent for love. ‘Young Adult’ is a genre, not a euphemism for lazy writing.

Most troubling was the “bonus chapter’, which would normally be called an epilogue, if, you know, you are an author that isn’t in elementary school. It read more like an essay about life, puking up Rafe’s correspondence with Mr. Scarborough from Openly Straight, than anything constructive or necessarily important to the plot. The voice here was a tad off, too, and read fairly younger than the voice of Bobby in previous sections.

After this the book concludes with a random-as-fuck! ‘An Interview with Carrie Conway’. I am not even going to….

Absent are typical speech patterns of teenagers, namely swearing, a lack of sex, scant references to drugs and alcohol, immature patterns of behavior, as well as other factors indicative of adolescence.

It frightens me that youth will read this, presumably those struggling with coming out, and given the speed at which social media is dictating a Gossip Girls like ethos at many schools, that someone COULD possibly be outted like Bobby, and that this would be something they read. That they would read of someone so popular, so above the ramifications of forced disclosure of ‘alternative’ sexual identity, that he remained unscathed.  What is this author telling these kids? That popularity would act as this huge protective factor, and shit on you if you aren’t the quarterback of your high school’s football game? That privilege dictates acceptance? That, well, for some people it does get better, but for geeks and dorks and outcasts, well better luck next time? To further the implications of privilege by proxy of popularity there is even a discussion between Bobby and another less popular kid. When this kid explains that he did something wrong to get popularity, for many of the reasons stated above, Bobby dismisses it in what amounts to a big ‘FUCK YOU!”. This is just negligible.

With Openly Straight and Out of the Pocket, I have to ask, as a community, are we this desperate for attention that we will applaud books that adopt toxic narratives and disseminate information that can certainly have a deleterious effect on younger members? Because I am certainly not willing.

suffered through this one, and more so than Andrew

The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley - Shaun Hutchinson

So, ill be up front; this book was an absolute failure.

Ben is convinced he killed his family, and for all intensive purposes, no matter how you frame it, he did. After the accident no one seems to notice that a 17 year old has vanished from the ER and is living in the hospital. The curious thing is that the ER seems to never have enough patients, so I find it bewildering that they would have lost a patient when three of the other people in the accident had died. Plus, do you really, honestly change that much with long hair that you wouldn’t be noticed by those who treated your family or by those seeing your mug plastered all over the TV and hospital……..?

He takes residence in the hospital, finding a space to hide and sleep that has been abandoned, construction halted because of ‘budget cuts’. He steals things; clothes, ipods, money, etc. He also takes clothes from the bin, which is gross, gross because honestly who wears dirty scrubs?

He befriends a small group of friends, all of which are adults, except for three kids his age. The relationships with the adults pretty much give him an all access ‘black card’ (like a credit card) to roam the hallways, without question. The familiarity of his presence to those beyond this social circle also permits him to be ignored, like some sort of wallpaper.

He has two friends on Peds; Lexi and Trevor. Trevor has end stage cancer and Lexi is pretty much just wedged in her room, studying for school, and has pretty much gone into remission aside from a treatment here and there.

He spies the ER and only witnesses about two really grueling events. Anyone spend time in an ER? It is a nasty fucking place. One event is a hate crime of a kid his age. He ends up stalking this fellow, and falls in love with him. An assortment of inappropriate things occur, most of which would not be permitted in even the worst hospitals. You’d have to have some really neglectful and lawsuit-ridden policies and a complete lack of supervision to get away with these things.

Oh, and ‘death’ is all over his shit. By death I mean a social worker.  What What?

He is obsessed with death that just happens to be a counselor. This is troubling on so many levels, but lets outline the top 3.

1.    It really isn’t clarified why this kid thinks this person is death.
2.    Is it really developmentally appropriate for a 17 year old, of typical development, to think a shrink is death?
3.    Thanks so much for portraying therapists, and therefore mental health in a negative way. Yeah, in a country plagued with vast degrees of mental health, and a profession that is often regulated to second, it is a wise choice to make DEATH a therapist.  As a social worker I have one thing to say…. FUCK YOURSELF.

This book is full of tedious and absurd things. Lets do an outline…

He befriends the ER doctors, and this is where the absurdity begins. On more than one occasion he is allowed to just hang out in the ER. Basically it becomes his second home.

Once in the ER a kid, 5 I believe, arrives dead. He convinces one of the ER doctors, who is also gay (fucking surprise there… right? Original. An older sadder gay version of Ben. Sorry I mean Drew).  Drew/Ben convinces this guy that he should be able to give CPR to the dead boy.  WTF?!!??!!?!?

While in the ER he is hiding, where—I don’t know—, and he observes a kid, Russell, that comes in with massive burns, which are suggested to be from a hate crime.

It starts off slow. Sure, maybe this kid gets into the intensive care, maybe. But he starts to do a lot of visits, and the frequency and length of them becomes more than questionable. Steve, the aging-eats-pizza-alone-gay-guy allows him to come in. Mind you this kid, Russell, is burnt on his hands, chest, and arms. I am assuming that infection is a pretty big threat, so are strangers allowed in his room?

He is allowed to work in the Café, but no one questions this, and no paper work is filled out. HR must be sleeping. He is also paid under the table, because, you know, zero oversight for any money that comes into the café and out of the café.

Russell is given morphine. Anyone in a hospital knows that this is really a sugar pill. It provides minimal pain relief. YES, if the pain is minimal then yes you may administer morphine (traditional in burn victims), but this is a total body burn, and on more than one occasion he is in such grueling pain that one of the nurses goes into a corner and cries. Sorry, but no. According to a few medical friends of mine, he would also be sedated at first, probably with a low level Bezos. Where is glycemic control? According to these same friends, nurses and one doctor, he would be provided with dilaudid on contact w/ an ER and a sedative, but also dilaudid for break through pain, and if morphine didn’t work, an oxi.

Where the hell is trauma support? If death is this random assigned social worker shouldn’t she be in his room on a regular basis? He was subjected to a hate crime, one that almost burnt his entire body.

A nurse, ‘Nurse Merchant’ allows this Ben free access to lazily just wonder into peds whenever he wants.

Let’s be honest, that little roof top excursion is basically kidnapping patients. There are no repercussions. Where the hell is security?

He pretends to be a nurse’s assistant, and with the help of Steve and those absent-minded ER nurses, kidnaps patients. They even help arrange and execute a very detailed plan. He is then allowed, after being caught kidnapping patients, to visit these kids again!

No one realizes or witnesses how disheveled this kid gets.  The timeline is the summer, so his hair grows long, he is stealing peoples’ clothing, and no one notices that this kid spends an obscenely long time in the hospital; ok one person notices. Once he is discovered no real interventions are set in place; no cops involved.

Other annoyances…

Themes of “people wearing masks”, or having different personas are looked at with an obsessive focus that has very little relevance to the story.

Brisk and chipped sentences are injected in a manner that doesn’t really serve any role. It doesn’t reflect changes in mood or affect. It doesn’t indicate any sort of resurgence of trauma.

Aside for a few nightmares there is little PTSD or trauma related mental health issues for dear Ben…Drew… Andrew.

NO ONE checks up on his last name, a name that is shared by another patient.

The author often excludes “He/she (inserts name) said”. Hemmingway did this, but you sir just flourished in failure when trying to employ this technique, though I think it wasn’t actually intentional, which makes it even more egregious. While it is true that you can use one dialog tag (for fuck sake don’t combine an action in a dialog tag), you have to do it with consistency. You can’t, for instance use one and expect the writer to follow along when the author, for no apparent reason, decide to break it up between paragraphs. Yup, I get the great function of dialog tags/beat tags, but there wasn’t enough here to support who was talking and when he/she was talking.

There are no persons of color, but honestly, in the real world this sometimes happens. Some of you may take offense to this, but I didn’t really have an issue.

There are cutesy little lines like “(example of something), (metaphor)”. All well and good, and really pleasing for a reader, but this form is exhausting when used in excess. On that note, some of the metaphors seem to just be thrown in there for effect and nothing more.


Great premise, as well as a good start, but the level of absurdity just destroyed this novel.

 

almost erotic gay coming of age.

Superhero - Eli Easton
“From that day on, Owen was my best friend—jelly to my peanut butter, fellow pea in my pod, Sam to my Frodo. And I was his.”


When a gay themed novel hits it, it hits it hard. We’ve all read this formulaic plot. Boy, artsy, sort of an outcast, with a limited social network, is best friends with a jock, a jock that slowly shoots up to the social stratosphere because he is such a feisty beef stud. And he wants every inch of his jock friend, but the jock is straight. Stop here. This is where this novel differentiates from the pack.

The story is told through two interlaced perspectives. The first is Jordan, or Jordy, the dorky one listed above, and the second Owen, the muscle ripped jock. However, it is told mostly through the lens of how Jordan sees and experiences things. The tell tail indications of a first person novel, too much introspective and the much too common angsty teenage whines, are mitigated with the author’s smart, selective and precision use of Owen’s views of the same event. We don’t hear a lot from him, but what we hear is important, and tells a narrative of a kid discovering an authentic self. And it’s smart stuff. Even though with Jordan dominating the novel, his portions also contributed to a fuller, more comprehensive view of Owen. They were both bright and flourishing things, and I fucking adored them equally. I really got a sense of them as different people, and the author sidelined all those trite common tropes, and made these two unique. She also made their experiences unique. She also didn't avoid the horniness that is at the center of a teens life. like.at.all.

Because this slipped through the gillnetting of typical gay clichés and redundant plot elements, I would be remiss to give much away. Suffice to say it takes the love struck gay kid, and his caring, compassionate and emotionally stable straight best friend, whom of course he has a crush on, because unrequited love is such unique shit, and spins it, just enough to be a bit original. It felt a lot like a short version of Boyhood, the movie that is, transporting the reader through childhood to late adolescence. It has elements of bullying, jealousy, straight relationships, sports, machismo, the smallest reference to drinking, and sex. Pages and pages of sex. Erotic, detailed, lustful sex. Seriously, a blow job lasted a solid two or more pages. The skill level of depicting a child and teenager’s POV was almost flawless, with the exception of the references of childhood seeming to be sometimes influenced by an older person’s lens.
 
love.

Another good YA gay lit





This book accomplished everything Openly Straight failed.

Simon is a popular kid, but in that dorky, theater kid way. He somehow has befriended members of different social circles, and avoids any of the typical harassment, hostilities, or otherwise major common social hardships inherent to High School. Well, expect for the homophobia, but even being in the sorta south, it is astonishingly not that serious.  He mostly does—gets all those great friends—through his long-term friend, Nick, who is a soccer jock, but equally a bit dorky with a guitar he is always strumming and playing a lot, a lot of video games.

His best friend is Nick, a kid he has been a friend with since he was 4. There is also Leah, the angst filled, sarcastic, sardonic character that you know MUST be in a novel about high school. This character is a lot like Juliet from Don’t Let me Go, but managed better, and more realistic. Abby is the token person of color (black, cause default), without falling into any stereotypes. And Martin is the dickhead bully. There are a host of jocks, nerds, and just your average kids, some of which are built up as decent secondary characters.

Simon befriended Blue through a Tumblr that shares a familiarity with Gossip Girls. It is a hotbed for harassment, gossip, and basically evolves into the books from Mean Girls and Cruel Intentions, but more Cruel Intentions.

There’s a lot of angst here, which doesn’t bother me, because it is remarkably close to my experiences in high school. It is nicely contained. I never really have a problem with teenage angst and think readers often forget about high school.

Martin, or Marty, the asshole of our story, blackmails Simon by screen capturing communications between Simon and Blue. The terms of the blackmail are so high school. Marty Mc’Prick wants a girl. Forced love always works.

The center of the story, and often the divider between chapters, is communication between Blue and Simon. This is much the same as Openly Straight’s paper assignments between student and teacher, but without the vast problems. They are well negotiated, and a central facet to the storyline, and have a high quality that enhances character development.

Marty’s obsession reaches its apex towards the middle of the book, and Simon’s life is ruptured in a way that he, at first, has problems relating to, which is totally understandable. It’s handled well, and there is this whole theme of ownership. Of owning your sexuality, when you ‘come out’, and its implications. There is this whole dialog the author has with the reader via Simon’s inner monologue and introspection. It’s sorta brilliant, and I could easily identify with it. So claps for you, because I’ve not yet encountered this in other Y/A gay lit.

The language/behavior’s of characters is uncommonly realistic, with all the accurate and expected emotions attached to the behaviors expressed by teenage characters. Yah, Leah you are annoying, but I get it. I get the insecurity, the self -inflicted emotional wounds, and the perpetual self-deprecation. Simon’s parents are a bit overly understandable, but the Dad’s jokes and humor may reflect some inner unresolved issues with his son’s sexuality. Leah and Nick have this weird, sorta unexplainable reaction to Simon’s sexuality. It just didn’t work.  The rest are all spot on.

Some will say this is a happy book. I really don’t think this is the case. It isn’t splintering emotional, at least not in a substantially sad way. Marty’s twists in a way that reminds me a lot of Luke Chesser in Don’t Let me Go. It’s totally different, but I sorta felt for Marty. The way it ended, well it was more tragically realistic, more contained. Likewise, of course there is bullying, and while its a bit over-exaggerated, yet not overly done, and not as subtly as homophobia typically manifests in high school, it’s relevant.

The sex scenes were realistic, but not graphic. The passion between Blue and Simon was palpable. Some are going to argue that it is surely unrealistic to fall in love from anonymous emails, but do you remember being in high school?

So yah, not the emotional “wow” factor I got from Don’t Let me Go and Something like Summer/Fall, and not even close to Two Boys Kissing, but there were moments. I highly recommend this one.

bored

— feeling sleepy
Anything Could Happen - Will Walton

In a young voice, perhaps too young for a high schooler, this book tells the story of Trench. It follows the same old trope of gay boy falls for straight best friend. Unfortunately, anyone well versed in this genre has been there, done that. There is of course a secondary female character, and Trent finds himself in a situation of forced intimacy. This is followed by the usual female love interest of his male crush, a device used to create tension and jealousy. It is all so trite and derivative. Then, rounding things off is the bully. The bully piece followed the tradition of a neat and tight ending where the victim casually accepts the bullying and carries the blame for the bully’s behavior. This is, like usual, a particularly callous thing when the gay population has been plagued with an uptick in bullying and harassment.

It is written in a casual, young voice, which, while a decent approach, feels a bit dead, a bit emotionless. A first person novel tend to have a large emphasis on introspection, but unlike the majority of its fellow brethren, this one offers a brief exploration of Trend’s mind, and it misses the opportunity to explore his motivations. The issue is, that without a necessary amount of introspection and a high reliance on character development, the novel felt more like a book that would have been more successful if it was written in third person. I forget who said it, but a first person novel should be avoided unless your character is truly original and offers something and contributes to the layers of the genre, rather then just slapping on redundancies.

This is most likely why I felt detached from his character. I didn’t fully understand him, and as the novel progressed I really didn’t want to know more. Moreover, there were only shades of well-developed characters. Matt, Trent’s obsession, with his lack of a defined character, felt like secondary to the plot, which was ultimately troubling seeing how he was suppose to be such a pivotal actor in the novel.

The tension of the interplay between Trent and Lana never reached full throttle, and since this was a way of engaging Trent’s sexuality, and therefore a push to out himself, I never felt that he was emotionally ready, nor was it necessary for him to come out. I’ve read a lot of this genre. A lot. A lot. The well-conceived protagonist always is in a place where he can really no longer deny himself the expression of his sexuality and sexual identity. I didn’t feel this way with Trent.

Lastly, just because of Will’s parental situation he is all accepting of Trent? Really? Really? The kid is literally cock out twice, exposing himself in a way that a lot of straight guys do with one another, but he is all happy and accepting of Trent’s sexual identity?

All and all this was an OK read, and would be great starter piece for those interested in gay YA novels. It is bland, mundane, and offers just enough for those with a budding curiosity for this genre. Equally, this book surely offers a kind and gentle start for those trying to comprehend their own sexuality/identity. For me this novel just didn’t have much spark, and because I surround myself w/ gay lit, it didn’t offer anything new.

oh no

The Cranberry Hush - Ben Monopoli

This story is one among many, many contemporary first-person m-m novels. Vince is pining for Giff. Giff is Pining for the ‘true one’. Zane is pining for Vince. Vince is a whiny, self-indulgent obsessive lunatic. It’s all so predictable, if it was teenagers, but with adult characters it’s almost absurd. Just shut the fuck up you’all.

 

With flashbacks we learn, once Griff does a snowy, and at the end seemly undeveloped surprised visit to Griff—a trip no less from Boston to the Cape even though their relationship is, well nothing much and he’s never visited before and really he had to look Vince up—all about their silly trials and tribulations.

 

Vince spotted Giff across his first college class, and so marks the beginning of obsession and the needless invasion of privacy and boundaries. His love is startlingly in its haste, and his stalkerness quickly develops into something that borderlines on clinical.

We learn that Giff and Vince had only really fostered a year-long relationship, until Vince, all inappropriate with one instance of non-consensual sexual touch, finally figures out he really has crossed boundaries. The two part abruptly, and Griff can’t really figure out why and what contributed to the ending of a seemingly functioning and loving friendship. It was really only one year, and while Griff really did appear to have affection for Vince, weighed against Vince’s feelings it just seemed like a typical roommate situation. Griff’s relationship with Vince had elements of relationships with roommates I could relate to, but nothing beyond a strong friendship. To counter a lack of emotional content, the story should have expanded their cohabitation to two years, rather than one. Given the final, abrupt reason for severing the relationship, I as a reader NEEDED more, maybe a few mutual instances of sexual exploration, or some sort of deeper reciprocation of affection beyond the common friendship.

 

Intermingled in the present is Zane, who is an all-together loving, charming, and somewhat broken but in a very honest way. He is in love with Vince, and Vince, even though he can’t dispatch his feelings for Griff, adores Zane. However, because Vince has yet to get it through his head that Giff doesn’t love him, that he will never have Giff sexually, he continues to ignore his feelings for Zane and really shatters the poor fellows heart. Zane character, motivation, and drives were really the only successful part of this book.

 

Vince and Giff end up on some sort of self-discovery, but precarious, uneven writing and an unrealized plot plunder the novel’s intended meaning. It seems that the author was trying to examine the very nature of relationships, and in particular that silly trendy thing called a ‘bromance’. The idea of being at home with another individual and figuring out and defining this particular concept, and finally realizing it. Unfortunately this was only really laid bare at the very end, and without really understanding how obsessive Vince further integrated this new knowledge I was left with a feeling of emptiness. He spent so much time infatuated with this man that I expected, no required some exploration in the ways this affected him. An epilogue, like usual, even when five months after the ending of the book, was neither effective nor successful in answering important questions.

The novel was ultimately underwhelming and underdeveloped. It left me as a reader neither relating to the character’s personality or motivations.

 

The past and present were combined in a way that was confusing and troublesome. The writing style itself was simplistic, but this too was unfocused. Sentences seemed to meander. Thoughts weren’t clarified. It felt, coupled with the use of past and present, very cumbersome.

DNF

Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You - Peter Cameron

DNF....

I just... can't. there are far too many beautiful books out there, and this one was so lofty, dense, overwrought, and had this air of forced intellectualism. It's a wonder, though, because it started out so smoothly and had a nice balance between humor and 'brainy-ish' dialog. Somewhere around the introduction of the therapist, it spun out this painfully arduous reflection on human nature and life, which isn't a bad thing, but it wasn't headed in a direction that i was willing to spend one more minute on. It was also about this time that the characters became drab replicas of one another. Any distinguishing factors dissipated as the MC went into endless diatribes against everyone and everything.

 

The Year of Ice - Brian Malloy

M/M literature is becoming less of an obscure genre, and one that has garnered a huge following. This alone is a remarkable achievement for a genre that had scant offerings and those that were mainstream were hidden in the ‘sexual development’ sections of bookstores (and I know… I used to secret agent them out as a teenager). It is even more delightful that the majority of these books are either from small independent publishers, or self published. There is this certain inherent credibility and integrity to authors that release their work in these ways.

 

These novels are an enormous wealth and each reader understands and values them differently. This is the uniqueness of gay lit. It can be informative for a young teenager struggling to comprehend the differences between himself and peers that hold affection for the opposite sex, inspiration for a person struggling with depression or suicide, offer a reminder that a sturdy, closed relationship is still a thing, while helping others understand that monogamy is often malleable. I just love, and can’t get enough of gay lit. However, recently there has been the injection of angst, self-defeating, and books that go along with the motto: if you are a fag the stereotypes are true, and you will always, always be lonely, into gay themed lit. In a small demographic, where additions to the genre are few and far between, these novels can have a deleterious effect on peoples’ perceptions of gays, both for those identifying as gay, as well as non-gays’ perception of gay people. Why am I yapping so much about this trend? Because I want to reinforce that this glorious achievement of a novel does not, I repeat not, succumb to a sad-porn style of gay writing.

 

In a slick, tightly woven writing style that is an exquisite example of first POV, Brian tells the eerily familiar story a high schooler’s budding sexual development. This book is a remarkable and welcoming addition to M/M lit, not because of its overall theme of sexual development, but because of the unique method of exploring it. The Year of Ice’s fellow bookshelf buddies often focus on sexual exploration as the main driving force of sexual identity. Sexual experience between two men is often the driving force for comprehending sexual identity. This book focuses more on the quality of the main character’s self-agency, masculinity, and his struggle to navigate the actual meaning of gayness, specifically mentally and physically. It also is a heavy, and gut-heaving reflection on intrapersonal aspects of sexuality and sexual identity.

 

Kevin is 17 at the start of the Year of Ice. He is popular, all the girls lust after him, he has a solid after school job, and we learn, through a nauseating amount of repetition, that he is one hell of a looker. He isn’t very smart, a C student at best, though I think this is a matter of applying himself, because his thoughts and brilliant corrosive sarcasm are beyond measure. Oh, if it isn’t apparent, he wears a straight man’s custom.

 

He is at war with his own sexual identity. He fancies/stalks a fellow classmate named Jon. His relationship with Jon is already turbulent because of some high school trivial masculinity hierarchy that reflects more the social strata of wolves, than it does humans, but on top of that he can’t calm his libido every time he sees Jon’s eyebrows. He has a few core friends, who don’t know he’s gay, and is relatively liked/feared. Somehow he endures multiple sexual episodes with a girl, even though they are a source of personal torture and to a large extent undermine his identity/ These, among others, are the systems that are restricted and constricted by his confusions over his sexual identity. I should point out that I don’t believe he was as much closeted, as he was trying to figure out the details of his sexuality, and how they fit into his life. Tim Wyman syndrome.

Outside the wrecking ball of pretending to be straight, Kevin’s life has a detailed list of knife cuts. His mother died of an apparent accident, but that’s slightly questionable, or is it? His father is absent, detached, and at times physically abusive. The father has little to no accountability, and relegates Kevin to a position of adulthood, forcing his kid to integrate and claim responsibility for his own mistakes.


His friends, while sturdy and essential to his wellbeing are mostly obsessed with ‘cars, tits, and tits’, and he often complains that there is little depth to these relationships. He later finds out, as his dad’s life spirals out of control and as a result his own, that most of the relationships, past and present, that he counted on were tainted by his father’s arrogance and immaturity. He has a few sturdy adult relationships, but mostly they are as rocky as his own self-identity. There is one really solid adult connection but he ends up in a ‘sauna’ and he isn’t waking up. His aunt, while aggressive, is a source of stability. And some, like Chuck, are full of mindfuckery. And the really shit part is, straight people, you do this too much to gay people. And gay fashion alert: he dresses in plaid, and if Banana Republic didn’t shit out so much for the past two seasons this may see bit farmer and not so cool—it still isn’t! —, but I guess this was only a problem for me.

 

So we have Stud Kevin, trying to figure out his own life, the life beyond senior year, the life of being gay, all the while dealing with the mess that is his life; a care packages delivered by dad. As he leaves high school, his sexuality starts to bloom. He is no longer the awkward teenager that dated girls to maintain an image, he is less likely to frequent keggers, and he is more willing to accept himself as gay. We bare witness to the hilarity—because we all can relate—of deciphering and writing personal ads. And, if you are like me, you’ll slide lower in your seat as you read the all too relatable scene where he attempts to enter a gay bar, after winding his way around the block a billion and one times.

 

As he enters his post-high school years, where he proudly attends college, he is exposed to a whole different microcosm of life that flourishes with potential. He meets a few people along the way that detract from the overall successfulness of understanding his sexuality, but these are fleeting and temporary. Some aid in self-discovery, but these too are brief. He meets people that appear essential to his sexual development, and while one could argue that the merger of them does amass the individual parts of his sexuality, most of these people are whispers in his history, and it’s all too fucking real and sad and heart-breaking, and big loud screaming “FUCK I can’t, as a reader, take this anymore”. This is one of my biggest gripes. I reject the notion, once again, that gay life has to be so sad and horrible, that it must be so challenging, and that the sum of a gay man’s parts needs to be tragedy and emotional needles. I am not oblivious to the inherent torture and loneliness of not understanding who you are, and once figuring it out, understanding that those around you are often not your allies, but enemies to your self-agency and identify. And I realize that it takes a lot of work to feel something of ‘it got better’, that it’s always one hell of a cluster-fuck, but where’s the goodness, Brian, in Kevin’s life? Cause there seems to be so little. And, as always with these books, the books that have a potential to ignite further despondency *, I say again and again, to the kids and adults who are angry, mad, sad, confused, etc, that this isn’t all that there is, cause being gay, its freaking marvelous.

 

Somehow, in a way that makes sense to the Kevin we met, and the Kevin we watched grow, all these things arrange themselves in a constellation that Kevin may not be able to accept or yet fully understand and may struggle against, but they are the Kevin we meet and the Kevin we cheered along the way, and this Kevin, well there’s some hope. The ending doesn’t come to some closure of grand self-awareness for Kevin, but more reflects fractures in those things that anchored him, leaving a new horizon of possibilities, the most important being acceptance, and the understanding that, with time it will all make sense.

 

There were a few issues. I felt his relationship with Jon was surface level, and there needed to be more tension, a higher level of dynamics. There interactions were so scarce that I couldn’t quite rationalize Kevin’s obsession with him. The mind numbing number of times the book broached Kevin’s attractiveness was unnecessary. There were some inconsistencies; the most glaring, “I’ve never touched a guy in my life, apart from slapping or hitting and occasionally shaking a hand”. So that whole biting ass scene?!? And, while welcoming, and often a relief from his deep analysis of his own sexuality, his jokes and sarcasm started to feel like the same material recycled. However, these are just minor issues of an otherwise successful piece.

 

Kevin’s mind is a scared mind. It’s a curious mind. It’s a horny mind. It’s a ‘what the fuck does M4M mean and what is a top and a bottom?” mind. It’s a sad mind. It’s a devastated mind. It’s an envious mind. It’s a vengeful mind. It’s a mind that I can find all too relatable. And for all this, we should really fucking applaud for Brian, cause shit, did he get this one right.

 

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oh sad fail

Openly Straight - Bill Konigsberg

Spoiler-ish note: the following discusses what happens to Rafe and Ben.

 

As a middle schooler Rafe was out to his family, friends, and the entire community. His mother, stereotypically overbearing and insanely well adjusted to her son’s sexuality, Boudia-ed off her old life and into the life of a gay parent. Equally annoying—annoying because it stereotyped the type of man who accepts his son’s homosexuality—was his father, a man in-touch with his feelings, overly zealous with recording movies on his cell phone, was a walking advertisement for a sedative. His best friend, Claire-Olivia (because we just needed an annoying name), is supportive, but also very much centered on her own life. There is a very stereotypical, feminine gay, because, well contrast.

 

That was the life in Boulder, a life Raff left behind to attend a pre-school. He didn’t do this to advance his intellectual prowess. Oh no, he did it because he was fed up with his sexuality dictating his life. In Boulder people first and foremost identified him as gay, with all his other virtues and strengths secondary. He was a principle actor in the development of the community’s constricted vision of himself, and while Rafe fell to the pressure of his parents to out himself completely and participate in gay themed lectures, he was clearly adept at practicing self-agencies and self-determination.

 

Secret Agent Straight was thrust into the world of an all male, and mostly straight, cohort, and was further imbedded into the jock scene. He assimilated quite well into this new role, and the novel doesn’t refrain from reinforcing his Secret Agent Straight status as being casual to his new affinity for sports, as well as his peers’ level of acceptance. Take home…. while in Boulder, gayness was a principle attribute in his exclusion from ‘being one of the guys’.

 

Zoom forward with parties, drunkenness, awkwardness with a stereotypically weird and effeminate gay to contrast sharply with his otherwise Chameleon sexuality, dorks, lots of slut-shamming, various instances of homophobia and dangerously vapid discussions of it, some unexpected friends, and Secret Agent Straight all comfortable in his new factitious self.

 

Pause in your zooming…… Secret Agent Straight find himself at the cusp of a budding male-bonding experience, the likes he never, according to him, would be able to have as a self identifying gay dude. Of course Ben, who sounds utterly adorable, yet a bit bottom heavy, was difficult to gauge earlier on in the book. I guess we needed that tension. But Ben loosens up as they romp among the unthinkable. Ben’s character develops clearer as the story progresses, and we find him to be a traitor to a childhood steeped in rigid conformity and all things republican. He is a lovable teddy bear and his interactions with Rafe were sooooo reminiscent of Ben and Tim in Something like Summer/Winter.

 

There relationship blooms into something—if not tragically trite and expected. Both are left to navigate a situation that is uncomfortable. And duh, Secret Agent Straight feels incredibly guilty. Guilt swarms as he recognizes his actions and behavior have had a ripple effect on most, if not all of the systems of his life.

 

I had my reservations when reading the blurb. I questioned whether this would be a successful look at a world flooded with heterosexual stereotypes and hypocrisies— metrosexual and bromance come to mine—, but I also wondered, ‘could and would this book become a vehicle for deconstructing, analyzing, and opening the door for dialog of all of the above?’. I was also fearful that it would sensationalize, that it would monopolize on some very challenging and contentious issues and that it would preach a position. Unfortunately at the conclusion of this book I realized that the latter was true. At face value this book offered a new and novel approach to the all to familiar gay coming of age book. However, peering deeper within the narrative and overall context revealed a few things that I found troubling.

 

One of the clearest offenses was the loving and accepting family. Now, I realize these family units do exist (mine is), however I feel strongly that they engulf YA gay coming of age novels. I think this is a disservice to teenagers challenged by their sexual identify. It was further troubling to see the author construct a plot that had Rafe’s query of his own sexuality and the meaning of it, and all his support systems railing against Rafe. This is a huge double standard. At one point his family is ubber supportive, and then, when it doesn’t fit their specific needs or perceptions of sexuality, they fortify against him. Either way they are applying their lens to a very personal and individual thing. I was aghast. What does this tell young adults who are having a difficult time understanding their own sexuality and navigating the ways their family and friends may or are reacting to it? What does this reinforce for the child that has been ostracized for coming out? What does this tell a child who feels isolated and seeks out novels like this one for answers, only to find that maybe there aren’t people that will accept him if he doesn’t mend his sexual identity to their standards?

 

Then we have another author subjecting his readers to the notion that being gay is an ugly, jagged collection of failures, fractured hopes, and a life of conformity (I’ll get into this sucker later!). Of course at the center of this novel is a relationship, what would a coming of age novel be without one? In this case we have Secret Agent Straight and Ben. Their relationship is inevitably hindered and restricted by Rafe’s hidden sexuality. Rafe find himself cornered by the life he created, unable to completely venture into a genuine intimate relationship. Yet, Rafe does find a semblance of one, and that is a hell of a lot better than forcing himself to endure sexual activity with people that neither deserved nor understood him. I question, again, what this tells a YA who is lonely and desperate for touch, intimacy, and a partner. What do you put up with? Being in a relationship that doesn’t fulfill you because you know you deserve more? Or being in a relationship that gives you some of the things you deserve, but because you are pretending to be someone you aren’t, you don’t get the whole apple pie? Hmmmm, which sounds worse? <spoiler> This is made even worse cause he doesn’t find anyone. </spoiler>.

 

Beyond the inescapable realization that Rafe’s dating life provided him something of substance when he was closeted—mind you an attribute that disgusted him when he was out—, we have that fucking concept that life will never be fulfilling, peaceful, and that the fear of being lonely or ostracized will never abate. Again, what the fuck are we telling teenagers when we illustrate this time and time again in books? <spoiler> Like other novels, at the end, Secret Agent Straight was left regurgitate his past. </spoiler>. Oh but wait, he learned something about himself from his relationship with Ben, like every other book with a similar climax. Yet, what exactly did he learn? Because it was so freaking illusive, that when splatter painted on the wall of other gay coming of age novels, and from affair, it is really difficult to see the subtle nuances.

 

But, mostly, I felt saddened that it rejected its own premise. I assumed that it was attempting to decode the nature of labels, and that its final goal was to establish that one can have many different lenses. Unfortunately, once his life ruptured he was thrust back into his former existence. There were some philosophical discussions on the differences of self, specifically how he perceives himself in relation to others, but these were scant, and I felt rushed and under-developed. He left a life of a prominent label, being gay, and with it a life of stereotypes and forced ideology, and entered a life where he found love, comradery, and acceptance. Now, the argument will be that he ended up understanding that the foundation of those changes was false and he further felt that he betrayed himself, however, isn’t there a way he could have maintained some of these while also believing in himself and being happy? The problem is it ignores its own objective, that one can have multiple lenses and, through integrating them, be other than one’s sexuality. I get it, he learned that his former self wasn’t that bad, and in extracting some of Secret Agent Straight’s life, developed into this more self-enlightened individual, but I didn’t think this transformation varied from his original self, at least not by much.

 

The scenario is troubling, specifically where stereotypes weren’t completely dismantled. Sports, an area that is plagued by homophobia, are the most prominent example. In Boulder Rafe felt anchored to a position of separate but equal. In MA, absent of the confines of his sexuality, he was easily accepted into this world. Bill really needs to have a sit down with Mr. Scarborough—I’d mock this more, but it was simply just a huge cop out to developing Rafe—because there is some serious meaning behind this message that requires some heavy probing.

 

In the same vein there were additional troubling remarks made about masculinity. One of the larger was, “I hadn’t understood that desire in you, the desire to do those sort of boy things. I don’t know how I missed that”. My mouthed dropped as I felt the implications. It tied masculinity to being straight, and the exclusion of masculinity as an attribute of being gay. It also reinforced the deeply imbedded notion that some sports are gender specific. I felt that it also quite clearly implicated gays as girls, rather than boys. Likewise, with little discussion of the stereotypes that gays aren’t as able to participate in sports, it more than anything reinforced that Secret Agent Straight found the antidote to all these things; forfeiting one’s expression of his sexual identity. Ultimately it was a loss for an opportunity to explore these things in a way that was meaningful and constructive.

 

We also had Rafe ignoring the all too familiar narrative that all homos are horny and want to fuck all straight people. Let me clear this up for you, we are, and we don’t. In not commenting when Steve said, “ I mean, we would have to figure out some other shower arrangement”, to which Rafe thinks, “I wanted to say: No, I don’t know. Not every guy wants to go to bed with you”, the author just really applied some sheet-rock to those perceptions. What a total fucking failure by the author. Lets not even talk about how it negates one’s ability to confront stereotypes.

 

Overall it was well written, and the Ben and Rafe portions were so cuddly and adorable. It had some issues where it ignored sex, rather than exploring it tastefully. The addition of Mr. Scarborough caused pacing issues, seemed rather random, and was a cop-out to developing Rafe. But mostly I was left with a Rafe that was caught between embracing his sexuality in a manner he felt was his own and still relishing in the cold hard fact that Secret Agent Straight had it every so slightly good, minus having to jeopardize his integrity. This made me sad.

Bird Box - Josh Malerman

May have some spoilers, but they are so soaked in cynicism that i doubt they can be easily decoded.

 

I've ordered a pizza. On it I have, The Bear, The Happening, Life of Pi , Snowblind and the Walking Dead.

 

 

The story of Malorie, a woman first introduced to us while cascading blindly down a river, has lived alone with a dog and two kids for nearly four years. Interchangable perspectives assist the reader in understanding the predicament. The steady, linear storyline of her Huck Finn adventure is cradled up to another segment of the story. This second part explains the terrible circumstances leading up to the crisis that envelops what we can only assume is the entire world. It starts with her and her sister, a missed period, death and sorrow on TV, some really creative suicides, and the disappearance of her relatives. She is thrusted away from the safety of her house and into another house, which she blindly locates, somehow, with her exceptional spidey sense (The unbelievability level is akin to The Bear).

 

Then the trouble with the story begins. Other characters enter on the scene, and it appears that the author struggled with the ways of handling a cast of main characters. Trouble arrises when the author employs multiple perspectives. Up until the mid-point range the majority, if not all, of the POV was third person Malorie. However, the author dips into the kettle of confusing when Tom and Jule's outside adventures are covered, and the perspective quickly shifts to them. Why we couldn't have a simple story-telling FAQ session at a table is difficult to understand, as their second adventure is explored in this way. This kicks the chair out from under orientation, and, coupled with chapters that focus exclusively on the present, those focusing on the past fumble the rest of the novel.

While the first storyline, the one with Malorie-super-navigator, is mostly polished, the pacing and overall delivery of the second continues to snowball into a corner of no escape. But it's the little things. The most glaring issue is how she managed to drive, the first blindfolded (or was it closed eyes? i can’t recall), and at another time in a car with black painted windows. It is absolutely inconceivable. We are not talking feet here, we are talking miles.

 

Another element that cut deeply, and built up a thick level of annoyance was that Olympia and Malorie just happened to have kids at the same time, and, when all shit hits the fan, Malorie, fresh off the birthing scene, is able to carry two kids, holding a hand across one’s eyes, while tucking the other under her dress, and descend steep attic stairs WITH EYES CLOSED!

 

The creatures seemed to manifest different abilities, perceptions, and forms, and this had no relation to building the storyline. Yet, it felt like they were frivolous attempts to make the plot more exiting. After awhile it was like oil and water; no matter how much you stir, they won’t ever be drinking buddies. A prime example of this was on the two occasions that animals were affected by the ‘creatures’. It felt almost misplaced, a lapse in judgement, that we only read these two references to the world beyond humans going a nutty. What a specific example? There was scant development towards that bird scene torn right the fuck from Hitchcock-seriously questionable integrity. There is only one other additional scene that would help elucidate this, and it didn’t have enough pulp to support its own, let alone help the reader figure out why animals are now affected.

 

Another general issue was when the creatures started to interact more meaningfully with humans, rather than meander outdoors waiting. When at first they seemed to operate on the peripheral of human life, inflicting harm to those that don’t cover their eyes, at the end they actually have physical contact with a few of the survivors. This shift was poorly represented in the novel.

 

Another, ‘are you fucking kidding me’ moment was Jule and Tom’s outside bonding time. It seemed rather unbelievable that they walked in a straight line for 3 miles. Tom explains that he really went back for a bottle of rum, but also medicine (that we never really heard about again), and a few random tools. Because, you know, NO ONE else drinks alcohol. Oh, they happened to step inside a grocery store, gather up canned food, and somehow, find horns. Oh, and Tom BLINDLY wrote each person’s name on them.

 

Then we have Gary. Fucking Gary! The Merle Dixon of the group. The Sawyer of the group. The Melisandre of the group. S/he goes by many names, but s/he seems to be injected into every single fucking apocalyptic, survival book/movie. In this case we have Gary. He doesn’t do much, but the author’s intentions are clear. He needed someone to stir shit up, just so we would remain engaged as we trudged through the chapters of Malorie saying, repeatedly, “Boy…. you hear something”… “Girl you hear something”. It makes sense, because mid “something (for the millionth time) is on the shore/watching/noise there noise here” I was gnawing my nails to blood. However, his appearance was so fleeting, and the overall objective of this character so utterly obvious and contrived, that it had a gross and irreversible impact on the entire novel. Before Gary I could excuse these little unstructured plot devices and convenient surprises, but the complete absence of literary talent and effort in creating and developing Gary was fucking staggering.

 

Lastly, it just didn’t seem to coalesce. It tried so hard to neat and tidy things, but the inclusion of Tom’s phone message and the weak explanation, the almost removal of Malorie’s blindfold by who knows what, where she is going and why, what happened to Greg, WHY she was so obsessed with Tom, a relationship that was relatively thin, what happened to the various animals important to the story line, and what are these creatures that seem to shape shift to fit plot twists? Ever watch The Walking Dead? this is one of those cliff hangers that are all too familiar. Those ones that just repeat themselves into the dirt, where the group just stumbles into another group, and it ends, waiting for next season, but not before giving you a feeling that something isn’t right. Let’s just hope that something isn’t a sequel.

 

there were piles and piles of these throughout the book, and ultimately, while the book was engaging and had its ‘take your feet off the floor and check under couch’ moments, it failed to reach full potential, and was ultimately fairly unpolished. But maybe this wasn’t all the author’s fault, or his editor, or the publisher’s, maybe his imagination and creativity is a big ole flight risk. If that's true.... put it in a fucking box.

Golden Boy - Abigail Tarttelin

The biggest difficulty with assessing these types of books, that is books focusing on contentious topics such as gay, lesbian, and intersex, is that one may, either subconsciously or unconsciously, apply a totally different set of standards to these books, compared to others he/she has reviewed. That is, given the delicate social and political nature of these topics, one may approach them more gently. I didn’t do this. Not.one.bit.

 

Golden boy is about Max, a teenager who is intersex. He has two genitalia, a penis and a vagina, however his penis is the most prominent. However, to make matters a bit more confusing, Max’s ‘condition’ is rare, and he has a partially working female reproductive system, and not a functioning male reproduction system. He has a brother, Daniel, who, at the start is ‘age nine and four-fifths’. He is also really freaking annoying. His mother is Karen and his dad is Steve, or Stephen depending on who wants him in bed. Karen is all black and white sorta gal, and vacillates between a position that is sterilized and lawyer like, and one that is more warm and caring, but is really just an echo of her bigger desire to protect her own needs. Steve is a political figure, all masculine and rarely cries, and is so overly laissez-faire about Max’s sexual and gender development that it is grating. Max later has a girlfriend, Sylvie, and there relationship is laced through with tumultuous teenagerness. She is also OBSESSED with his ass, or arse. His doctor is named Archie and she comes with an annoying hero complex. I wanted Max to kill them all.

 

Max has lead a life filled with a history of servitude, to which I mean he never wants to stir the boat. This gets all things complicated because he is navigating adolescence with two sex organs, and if that wasn’t overwhelming enough he is uncertain as to what gender specific attributes his body will develop.

 

His life is disrupted when he is raped by a family member; don’t worry it isn’t trite enough to make it his dad, or worse, an uncle. I am pretty sure, but not entirely certain, that it turns out he really isn’t a family member, but this isn’t important. This event totally undermines everything that Max related to, including his gender identity. Not only that, but the mix match between the harrowing event and his docile demeanor scratches up the thin veneer of how he presents himself and who he knows he is, or sorta kinda thinks he knows he is. It also just thrashes his psychological underpinnings to rubbish.

 

Eventually this becomes not an isolated event, but one that seeps into every corner of his protected, golden boy life. Each system involved, his relationship with his friends, girlfriend, coach, sports, brother, father and mother, and there relationship with each other, is shivved. Soon all of the delicate work done to maintain a ‘normal’ life is gone. We find ourselves going along on the ride as each person tries to shape the crumbled sand castles of his/her life, and ultimately changes to the ways he/she relates to Max. Max is even further in the shitter in digging about the wet sand of his past existence, and with the slow and steady exposure of his ‘truth’ he chances losing everything. Even with honest revelations culminating in him disclosing the truth, poor Max is just further subjected to the harsh reality that the world doesn’t accept things—like gender in this case— that aren’t exclusively binary. This sucks, and Max, unable to escape the clutches of his past coping strategies, falls subject to his own self-hatred and pity. This is annoying. You just want to slap him. There is light somewhere in there, and a resolution that is warm and fuzzy, but it is so goddamn contrived, and the buildup drowned by lengthy explorations on gender and identity, that the reader may (as I did!) ultimately not give a shit. Ok, I gave a little bit of a shit.

 

The problem with this book is with its topic. As I said before, props to picking a topic that is seldom if ever explored in literature, however, this novelty can’t save a messy and typical format. I expected too much going in, a sort of departure from the typical model often used in books centering on family disruption. This didn’t happen.

 

This is your very basic outline of a family under pressure, and the satchel filled with books using it is full and its stitching threaded. Max is an otherwise well adjusted child—and I object to the notion that he should be so well adjusted given his circumstances—, who encounters a horrible event, find himself shredded by it, must endure, and somehow, typically ending with a chapter of self-actualizing bullshit, to resolve these issues, but contends that he will ‘always be different’. Ah, life lessons, so powerful and meaningful.

 

Then we have Daniel. Oh, shitters, this character is a mess. I want you to imagine a toddler combined with Steve from Family Guy. He see-saws from this self-pitying, throws things rather than uses words, annoyingly whiny child, who obsesses about transforming people into cyborgs, plays video games obsessively, pretend plays about things that are mostly video game related, to a child yogi master that says this:

 

“Yes. Not Yeah”, I tut. “Anyways, I wouldn’t worry about your variation, Max. The statistics about how common intersexuality is are very skewed and they think that the rate of intersexuality now could be as high as four percent. Some cultures register at eight sexes. One in one hundred live births are checked for some sort of ambiguous genitalia. Also, there are over a hundred videos online of hermaphrodite pornography, although, to be honest, I think they are faking it because they don’t look like you. You may be different like me, Max, but the good news is that we’re living in a world of different people.”

 

“I thought it was inappropriate of you to try and hurt yourself before asking me what I thought about it. If you want to know what I think, I think it would have been absolutely the worst thing in the world if you had died.”

 

Also his vocabulary, a slew of very large words, is unrealistic. When weighed against Max’s sections, Daniel seems to dwarf Max’s maturity, emotionally and otherwise, as well as Max’s ability to obtain, sequence, and rationalize events. It just isn’t true to a ten year old, and this is where, ultimately, the book falters.  

 

The contrast in parents is also quite cookie cutter. Karen is emotionally distant, but also very clearly able to make rational decisions, while Steve echoes that all too familiar child-focused parental figure that believes a child should evolve and progress as that child sees fit. Problem is these two are such opposites, and that these personalities rarely waver outside of their rigid boundaries, that it feels unrealistic.

 

Sylvia too, is that character that thinks she is fit to deal with anything, yet no degree of preparedness can support her in dealing with Max’s issues. Her “I think I can I think I can” complex is derivative, and follows the expected ups and downs. She enters, exits, and enters just in time for curtain closing.

 

Archie is the worst, though, and aside from Max’s various degrees of overwrought self-actualization and speeches on accepting the self for what it is, she is our superman. She swoops in when Max is in trouble post-rape, works diligently to aid in helping max process of the trauma, and then proceeds to regurgitate all this factual information, page after page. I AM NOT suggesting that health related information, or a detailed exploration of sexuality isn’t warranted, but it all to often mimics the same deliriously technical spouting seen in “Suffer All the Children”, which consequently had a doctor in it that did the same thing. With so many characters this information could have been spliced and introduced at a more even, less intrusive way.

 

Ultimately we have a mosaic of commonly encountered elements, laced together in a very redundant manner, with a unique topic. Yes, the book offers something new as far as subject matter, and there is huge value to that and the influence it will have over popular culture, as well as sources of discussion, but the uniqueness ends with the subject. It was the different character sections that burned this book, and perhaps if they were interwoven it wouldn’t feel so parcellated and controlled, and the characters would have been developed more thoroughly and more originally. A brave foray in a very contentious topic that is often shrouded in misinformation, this book ultimately fails to reach its full potential.    

 

a nice and harrowing short

The Lottery and Other Stories - Shirley Jackson

This short story holds a barren coldness and a detached feeling that only a well skilled author could fathom up. The small page numbers don’t detract from character development, and in fact, they are expertly tuned and refined, and are differentiated from each other.

 

This short and sweet, pushes the boundaries of exploring the contours of the ways people conform. Some are blatant conformists, others show subtle shades of challenges to the ‘old ways’, while a few remain steadfast in adhering to what is familiar. Characters’ commentary, physical positions to the event, body language, and convenient lack of adherence to tradition, are all echoed throughout the book, and reflect both sides personal reflection of what occurs in the town square.

 

It takes a keen and perceptive look at how customs and traditions are warped and formulated to assimilate to changes in peoples’ perceptions, and the current ‘moral lens’. The author looks into the strife between groups of individuals aligning with evolutions in thinking, and the hesitancy, or outright rejection of older generations to facilitate and embrace changes to things that are part of their world-view.

 

The title is perfect and expertly designed to illustrate, from my POV, the way individuals are subjected to these traditions, and how luck of the drawing of a piece of paper is a source of hope for those whose folded paper is blank, or, for that one person holding a black marked paper, the antithesis of hope.

 

This book comes before The Hunger Games, and all its little trite and redundant siblings, and packs a punch larger, and one that clearly reverberates even decades since The Lottery’s publication.