Sunday, November 16, 2008

Orientation by Rick R, Reed

Reviewed by Araminta Matthews

I have never read a romance novel. Can't stand the idea of them. I am of the theory that romance novels are for the romance-less, a commodity I have thankfully never been without. Rick Reed's Orientation is a romance novel, but it is unlike anything I ever imagined romance novels could be. It is a feminist testimony, it is an earthquake to the infrastructure of stereotyped sexuality, and it is a blessing to believers in an infinite universe.

Let me begin by explaining that, as a member of the GLBTQ (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered, Queerstioning) community, I am often on the hunt for literature that I can relate to Рthat is, literature with a GLBTQ lifestyle theme or slant that captures my interest. For me, the mark of truly great GLBTQ fiction is that it is a story first with queer characters second. So much of this "specialized literature" expresses its characters as though being gay is the only thing that happens in a gay person's life, when in fact, being gay is just one small pebble in the riverbed of a person's entire soul. People are more than just their sexualities, and there is much more to life than with whom a person chooses to be intimate. Rick Reed's novel, Orientation, succeeds. The characters are not just homosexual stereotypes living a clich̩ life. They are real, believable, and whole, and they are engaged in a plot deeper than just their "coming out" or their "queeritude". And the story is as eerie as it is romantic.

The story begins in Christmas with Robert watching heart-breakingly over his lover, Keith, as he begins his journey toward death; moves through a Christmas stroll along the beach and a suicide intervention with a young lesbian, Jess; and culminates with a metaphysical reunion during the Christmas of 2007 with both Robert and Jess and the spirit of lovers past.

In spite of its fantastical plot, I never once felt like this story was contrived. I believed from moment one that everything Reed presented was not only possible, but plausible. That slippery veil that separates the reality of the reader from the fantasy of the story hung silkily over my eyes for every, single word I swallowed. The dialogue was real and engaging. The characters were whole and every one of them completely realized. The plot was poetic and emotional. The conclusion was the correct, heady mix of triumphant resolution with the characters' closure and bittersweet disappointment with the ending of a very good book. The good news is Reed has more books that I can read, and I can only imagine that his other novels are equally as deft and crafty as this.

In final words, let me express my excitement about this discovery. GLBTQ world, listen up! This author, Rick Reed, is the real deal. He tells the real stories. He challenges the myth that sexual orientation is fixed or stationary when it is more likely on an ever-changing scale. He shakes open myths about gender roles, and he reinvents the wheel of the romance novel. Thanks to Rick Reed, we are no longer stuck with tired coming out stories and floundering clichés."

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