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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

one of the most brilliantly conceived gay YA books that transcended the genre

Something Like Spring - Jay Bell

 

 

 

Ben and Tim withdrawal…

 

 

Many reviewers subjected Tim to a rigorous examination pertaining to relatability. These all start with [insert any negative adjective here] and end with [I just couldn’t relate/connect Tim]. This is the laziest type of analysis. No one is asking you to share a Bud on the back porch, so lets get real with reviewing, k?

 

The ‘this is unbelievable’, fist on table—no I’m not calling you a drunken sailor—statements are misleading. I’d recon that a substantial number of gays battled similar issues. I’d also slap down a fiver and wager that the majority of dissent derives from the options of heterosexuals.

 

This is unquestionably my favorite tetralogy, which, because 4 consecutive novels seldom happen in literature, doesn’t really say much. Something like Summer has inherited a spot as one of my top 5….ish favorite books. To reinforce the prestige—I jest, because I know full well that this list will stir up some raised eyebrows and a “whattt”?—of this membership, Something Like Summer straddles—pun…. Maybe…— up with Two Boys Kissing, Lover’s Dictionary, Me Before You, Call Me By Your Name/the Hours.

 

The ‘Something like…’ series was a unique departure from the standard mainstream gay literature, a genre that more often than not is an expansion of a GLADD “Find Yourself: Coming Out 101” “Smile You’re Gay. Be Proud” “It gets better”, etc. pamphlet that has become this festering mantra of the genre, and is frankly bullshit.

 

Spring wasn’t without its flaws, however.

 

 

 

It contained far too many love triangles, three by my count, and although these were tightly woven into the storyline, it felt contrived at the end. Is this the author sharing the limits of his writing abilities, or is he just cynical of gay relationships? Given Jay’s claim that, ‘happy relationships are boring’ not surprisingly many of the relationships splinter into a soap opera ending. Where they aren’t ending, there is a high degree of suffering. This, in my humble opinion, is EXACTLY where Bell fails us as a community. Can’t we get a bit of normalcy? I’m not suggesting that relationships don’t end. Yet the ending of any relationship doesn’t have to end in overt drama, Mr. Bell. It can be rather subtle. Plus, it would be special if we could avoid the three-way relationships.

 

As always with Jay Bell, the novel is permeated with pacing issues. Jay is known for piling in an excessive amount of plot lines into the final chapters of this series.

 

Jason’s budding love life, numerous love triangles, the elucidation of the proposal and the complications, and old ghosts charge violently from the past. Then that scene….

 

Too little space for character and plot development. ALL of these elements are emotionally manipulative in their stunted, shortened state. All could have been expanded into so much more.

 

 

 

 

Lastly, I am a strong opponent of an epilogue used at the conclusion of a series/solo novel and feel that they are abandonment from skilled writing, and furthermore weaken the overall book. Moreover, they seem to be exclusively contained to Ben and Tim’s successful relationship. I get it “happy couples are boring”, but in a world often defined by hate of an internal quality, as well as externally, members of the gay community NEED every moment of happiness obtainable. As such, I vehemently reject the notion that happy couples are boring. *

 

 

The novels are arranged to correspond with the seasons, and as the storyline overlaps, the symbolism of seasons is a remarkably accurate way of capturing the tumultuous lives of these two gents. In reality, while this is a portrait of a relationship over the course of a decade+, it is also a hugely successful and accurate study in sexual development.

Lets start with how we got here…

 

Summer/Winter offer very different orientations of the same experience.

 

Summer/Winter introduced us to two characters; strong, noble, confident, defiant, dorky, Will from Will & Grace like, Benjamin Bentley, and Ben’s insecure, confused, but teddy bear lovable, protective and dedicated counterpart Tim Wyman.

 

Ben, having conquered the initial phases of his sexuality and claiming stake to it, began venturing into the murky territory of solidifying his expectations of a partner and the workings of a relationship. As onlookers we spy on Ben as he attempts to nurture Tim’s initial confusion over his sexuality, while also struggling to maintain his own sense of self. As much as Ben tries to navigate the two, he decides to preserve his personal integrity and abandons his attempt to mold Tim into his own vision of a partner. In the second half of SLS we watch as Ben stumbles through a life concaved by financial and personal hardship. He gravitates back to his hometown, and finds comfort in a partner that complements himself. Through the viscous cycle of his relationship with Jace, where they endure the splinters of Tim’s manipulation and Ben’s subsequent collision with loss when Jace dies, Ben secures a greater understanding of intimacy, love, forgiveness, and resilience, each resources he will impart on his future relationship with Tim.

 

In stark contrast to SLS, SLW broadsided me with how relevant Tim’s story was a reflection of my own past—limit your excitement. I didn’t hire anyone to break up a relationship, though there are some quality manipulative skeletons in my closet. His actions, shimmering with genuine love and compassion, were tinged by insecurity, loneliness and only a basic notion of romance and of his own sexuality. His life was stratified into two opposing worlds, one that allowed himself to revel in his love for Ben, and the other a place combining internal struggle with social oppression, denying him the freedom to fully integrate Ben into his life. Tim created a space in an attempt to shield one life from the other, the purpose to preserve his relationship with Ben. In the second half, Tim struggled with his own set of challenges, electing to face his homosexuality. He leans on Eric for wisdom, and later acts on impulses rather than rationale, and manipulates the hell out of Ben. Chaos ensues. Eventually, grieving over a past dwarfed by doubt, Tim is ready to rekindles a life with Ben.

 

Something Like Winter left us, three years in the future as witnesses to Ben and Tim emerging as equals, but differentiated by their own life experiences, challenges, and strengths. Down on one knee, “Tim reached into his pocket, took out the ring” and honoring Jace for the love he shared with Ben for the moments he himself couldn’t be there, places the ring on Ben’s other finger. This gesture is symbolic because it represents Tim’s emotional and sexual evolution. Likewise this was Ben’s moment to pay tribute to Jace and all that he afforded him and all Ben reciprocated, while also opening space for Tim’s love.

 

In Something Like Spring we time travel five years backwards from Tim’s clunky, but deliciously adorable proposal. 2006, the year known formally as ‘The year Dick Chaney Shot That Guy’ and the year tears were shed over Pluto’s demotion. 2006 is also the year we first met 16 y/o Jason.

 

Bruised by the foster care system, and his mostly intentional rebellion against adoption, Jason passes through numerous placements. Fortunately he has the support, and nurturing of his casework, Michelle, whom, if you recall is Jace’s sister. The strength of this bond between adoptee and caseworker is paramount in Jason forgoing his reservations and welcoming, however begrudgingly, the billionth placement. Jason finds himself on the doorstep of a controlling mother, two adopted siblings, one, a psychopathic boy and the other an abrasive older sister.

 

Then there is Caesar, the charming, seemingly straight, freaking studly, buff lad. Jason becomes straight up obsessive and stalker like. He doesn’t have a remote idea of the separation between fantasy and reality. It is literally straight out of Talented Mr. Ripley….

 

 

Thankfully there is no boat, paddle, drowning scene.

 

It becomes scandalicious, as we grind our teeth at another straight man gone gay plotline—an early 90s theme which presumably garnered praise as a controversial analysis of sexual development, but now is derivative, contrived, and cliché. Don’t stop there, lets cultivate a culture of every straight man’s locker-room fear, as Jason, suffering uncontrollably from ‘adolescent horny syndrome’, awkwardly assaults sleeping Caesar.

 

 

 

The ‘unexpected’ scenario of assaultee and assaulter swooning over one another is delivered like a lifetime movie starring Tori Spelling—old Tori Spelling, you know the one desperate for any TV role. Jason and Caesar are openly gay, so the reader doesn’t have to endure the tortuous internal versus external conflicts we saw in SLS. This inevitably feeds Jason’s obsession with Caesar, as he displaces a past devoid of attachment and blindly throws himself, trust and all, at Caesar. Bottom line is that this is a rough cut of the end of the Tim/Ben saga, with the added addition of a triangle relationship, minus authenticity, and maxed out on heart-wrenching contrivances.

 

I’m going to proceed with a bit of ambiguity, as the plot lines are a bit redundant and conventional for this genre, this isn’t, however, a bad thing!

 

2009… Phelps is caught smoking pot, and Jason isn’t doing much better. Living in Huston, and with a GED in his back-pocket, 19-year-old Jason has fought for, and established a life for himself, albeit a bit precarious. His life is nestled between difficult and impossible, and it takes homophobia to shred the gauze that was his life. Homophobia makes itself scarce in this series, and it is a bit disappointing to not see more of a reality-based climate. Given the books intended Y/A audience, and considering the climate of youth homophobia that frequently results in suicide, Jay missed an opportunity to explore the facets of this phenomenon to a greater extent, particularly the use of characters that ‘successfully’ navigate bulling. Nevertheless, Jason railed against the situation, utilizing resiliency most likely derived from his experiences in foster care.

 

His situation brings him to Austin, and into the lives of a particularly adorable couple. In an SUV of basically strangers weaving into the deepest recesses of the city, Jason stammers cautiously but hopeful into the lives of Ben and Tim.

 

‘Emma turned and gestured to Jason with one arm, as if presenting him. Ben took a step forward, held out his hand and then dropped it again. ‘

 

‘Um. Welcome home”, [Ben] said, before looking uncertain. “You are staying, aren’t you? Or do you want to look around first, inspect the premise?’

 

‘Jason laughed. He couldn’t help himself. When Ben heard this he smiled and offered his hand again. “I have no idea what I’m doing,” he admitted. “Let’s start with the basics. I’m Ben’.

 

In review form this seems all awkward and weird, but trust me, Jace makes an appearance earlier on that helps as a segue between plot lines.

 

Ben and Tim have become the couple every gay admires, even when Jay Bell rebels against the idea of happy-go-lucky boring couples. The kind of couple that eats Ben and Jerry’s ice cream from the carton, one spoon shared amongst them both, while an old dog and cat rumbling in the grass. Even with his spidey sense for the inevitable catastrophe, Jason perceives comfort.

 

An interesting phenomenon occurs, whereby Jason’s arrival becomes the catalyst for uprooting unresolved issues. For some this happens at the first meet and great, and for others, like Jason it has a fairly delayed onset.

 

Ben assumes the position of nurturer, prompting him to mend his own inherent qualities with those derived from his relationship with Jace, a process that inevitably forces him to further integrate the loss of his former husband.

 

Outwardly Tim exudes confidence and portrays himself as an adjusted individual, but inside Jason provokes a deluge of insecurities, the source of which is an emotionally numb childhood, that quickly erodes any semblance of paternal instinct.

 

We see this most clearly in one of his many confessions:

 

“Yah. Look what a great job they did with me.” Tim’s voice was dripping with sarcasm. “The thing is, I don’t know how to do it right. I can’t raise a kid.”

 

Jason is easily the most effected by this complex interrelationship. He must give a nod to the past, accepting that the familiarity of a family long lost is in front of him, not behind him, and, as he will discover, so is everything else.

 

Each will find that hemostasis is only possible vis-à-vis the strength of their family unit, and while work will need to be done independently, this work is only possible if and when they willingly accept how much they, really, genuinely need one another.

 

Transition from 2009 where we all forgot about Phelps and onward into 2011, the year focused on ‘tiger blood’, Jason perseverates over a crush, Tim tries endlessly to move past his childhood, and Ben continues to be adorable, and that whole sappy proposal happens…. And….And the inevitable tear inducing tragedy.

 

 

 

 

Tim will inevitably recognize the parallels between Jason past and his own marred childhood, recognizing it deleterious effect on his ability to initiate and sustain intimacy, and more globally its effect on his overall emotional facilities. To a certain extent doing right by Jason is Tim’s way of dissolving the residue of his own childhood, rectifying and forgiving himself for the hurt he caused Ben, and becoming a better partner. To what degree, and even if he is successful is for you to discover.

 

Ben recognizes earlier on that a sort of symmetry joins Jason and him. While Tim can relate to Jason’s past, and sees the implications like a malady of the soul, Ben acknowledges something only one afflicted with it can recognize; vulnerability. You know, the vulnerability that gets you into trouble over blue running shoes, for instance. Rather than forcefully superimpose his own guiding principles onto Jason, he must help him navigate the formation of his own conceptual map of relationships, support him in understanding that family isn’t translucent, threadbare gauze, but the synchronicity of an unspoken song between one another, and most importantly who to share his spoon with.

 

Jason will repeat the same events of his earlier life—picnic dates in particular, and a few misguided attachments—, in an almost transparent test of his new life. His conception of love while in his youth group days as “[...] some guy I have to impress or one who feels like he needs to show off. I just want someone who loves me that I can love back. Simple as that.” will transform into something sturdier. As much as Ben (AND TIM!) wants Jason to find that person to share a single spoon with, Jason wants it more. Embracing Ben’s wisdom, and Tim’s tenacity, combined with his own world-view, Jason might just get there. But, most of all, Jason will be content with giving Ben and Tim everything. And maybe, just maybe, family is all he needs.

 

 

 

 

*It is my hope that Bell reconsiders this orientation, and either byway of short stories or with larger offerings with individuals directly interfacing the couple as the focal point, affords us the opportunities to see more of the life Ben or Tim share. It's been rumored that one of the secondary characters in Spring is to take the reins in next novel. The notion that secondary characters can be cast as primary characters in offshoots is an error in judgment, if not for any other reason than its potential to disrupt the symmetry of the first two consecutive novels. Likewise, Ben and Tim are the only primary characters to survive the Something Like series, and as such we have grown to adore them both—but more so Ben, because honestly... come on. I would be extremely hesitant to indulge any novel, offshoot or otherwise, that does not include Ben and Tim at the forefront.