Monday, October 6, 2008
Orientation by Rick R. Reed
Reviewed by Tyler R. Tichelaar
Orientation is surprisingly different from Rick R. Reed's previous highly suspenseful novels such as "IM" and "High Risk." Most of his books feature very dysfunctional villains whom the plot circles around. While "Orientation" includes the character of Ethan, who is a frightening yet somewhat inadequate villain, the novel's real focus is on love rather than suspense or terror.
Robert and Keith were lovers whose relationship lasted only a short time before Keith died of AIDS at Christmas 1983. Robert cared for Keith until the end, and Keith, who was financially well-off from writing popular children's books, left Robert with enough money to be comfortable the rest of his life. In the years that follow, Robert has had several lovers, but none ever compared to Keith. Robert, now well into his forties, is living with Ethan, who is two decades younger. While their relationship was hot at the start, they have started to grow apart. Robert even suspects Ethan of cheating on him when Ethan makes excuses for why they cannot spend Christmas together. Alone on Christmas, Robert goes for a walk along the beach. He soon meets, Jess, a young woman who is contemplating drowning herself in Lake Michigan because her girlfriend, Ramona, left her. Robert convinces Jess to come home with him, and then a strange series of coincidences and dreams make Robert and Jess believe she may be Keith reincarnated. To substantiate the possibility, Jess was born the same day Keith died. Robert, tired of Ethan's antics, begins contemplating a relationship with Jess. Little does Robert know that Ethan also wants out of their relationship, but in a far more drastic way. Will Robert end up with Jess? Is Jess really Keith reincarnated? And if so, can a gay man love a lesbian woman?
Rick R. Reed puts his characters in a difficult situation. The concept of reincarnation and two lovers meeting again is not completely original in fiction, but Reed has done his research—he mentions the real life story of Bridey Murphy's claim to reincarnation, and he adds a gay twist to the reincarnation plot. I was also reminded of the more disturbing scenes in the Nicole Kidman film, "Birth," where a child was Kidman's reincarnated husband.
While Reed explored paranormal possibilities, I appreciated the realistic ending. Fans of Reed's novels will be entertained by Ethan's attractive villain role—I actually found him the most interesting character in the book—but readers will also note a different tone to this book which suggests Reed is seeking to express himself in new ways, pushing against the limits of his genre just enough not to lose his faithful readership, yet to explore deeper questions, not simply about being gay, but about what it is to love someone.
"Orientation" is not my favorite of Rick R. Reed's novels, and I think the end is a bit contrived to reflect the suspense ending his fans would expect, but I appreciate his effort to push the genre's boundaries. I will be interested to see if he continues to look deeper into his characters' emotions beyond the fear, lust, and anger that motivated his previous villains. I also enjoy the paranormal possibilities he only slightly experimented with in "Deadly Vision" and now in "Orientation." I would like to see him focus more on the paranormal in his future novels.