Monday, March 9, 2009

Orientation by Rick R. Reed

Reviewed by jessewave

THE BLURB: Christmas, 1983: A young man, Robert, tends to his soul mate, Keith, who is dying from AIDS. Robert tries valiantly to make this a special Christmas for his lover, but loses the fight late Christmas night. Christmas, 2007: Robert ventures out late Christmas night and finds a young girl about to fling herself into the unforgiving waters of Lake Michigan. He rescues her, and the two form a bond forged from an odd feeling they share of familiarity, and even love. Neither understands it, since Jess is a lesbian and Robert has never been attracted to women. But there’s more...Jess begins having strange dreams, reliving key moments she couldn’t know about in Keith and Robert’s life and courtship. Robert and Jess begin to wonder if their inexplicable feelings might be rooted in something much more mystical than a savior/victim relationship.

As the two move toward and pull away from each other, Ethan, Robert’s younger lover, plots the unthinkable. His crystal meth-addled mind becomes convinced there’s only one way to save himself, and that is through Robert’s destruction. Christmas 2007 spirals downward to a shattering climax in which both love and lives hang in the balance.

There’s a murder attempt...salvation...redemption...And a new love is born.

THE REVIEW: Rick Reed is a prolific writer whose books include many genres and I'm just starting my journey into the incredibly complex mind of this artist as he arranges his paints on a palette and paints pictures that let the readers into his imaginary world. This is a love story but it's not your typical love story because for Rick Reed there is always a twist as his stories are unusual, and even if you feel that they are too incredible for words you can't help but be caught up in his evil and inventive mind.

Orientation begins Christmas Day 1983 when we meet Robert whose lover Keith is dying of AIDS. As he takes care of Keith, perhaps for the last time, Robert tries to make Christmas a day to remember because he knows it would be Keith's last. What really touched and saddened me about this scene is the picture of Robert scurrying around to make elaborate preparations, knowing that no one else will see them or eat the food.

We flash forward 24 years later and there's a new man in Robert's life, Ethan, one of his many lovers over almost two and a half decades, but he knows that this last relationship has ended although he can't quite bring himself to throw him out because he's afraid of confrontation. As Ethan goes out Christmas night on yet another unexplained tryst, Robert decides to take a walk along the shores of Lake Michigan to figure out what to do, and it is there that he sees Jess as she is about to kill herself. He saves her, after convincing her that suicide is not the answer to her problems, and brings her home. This is the start of a new phase in Robert's life when he realizes shortly after, that inexplicably Jess is reliving his and Keith's life when they first met. There is no logical explanation other than somehow Jess has a part of Keith's soul inside her.

I really love Orientation which is exactly the kind of story one expects from Rick Reed - engrossing, mind blowing, emotional, eerie and any other word that you wish to choose but personally I wanted more of the story devoted to Jess and Robert in the same space, including an exploration of their symbiotic relationship with Keith, Robert's former lover. However, that was not the story that the author wanted to write and this one is quite riveting in parts, and in some ways touching, as we journey into Ethan's befuddled mind that's gradually losing its grip on reality. Turns out that Ethan has a major drug problem that's killing him and he's in a hole that he can't get out of; his unabated desire for the drug and risky sex with strangers is now pushing him to the point of contemplating murder. It's clear that the author did a lot of research into the world of crystal meth. and its victims and he gives us a graphic picture of how dependency destroys human beings in a short space of time and changes their orientation.

Orientation is an incredible piece of writing, from the strange and unexplained loving relationship between a gay man and a lesbian to the descent into hell which is what Ethan 's life became with his dependency on Miss Tina as he calls his drug of choice when he smokes, slams, and snorts his new mistress. The story also gives the reader an excellent portrayal of Robert's character as he is incapable of facing the truth of Ethan's addiction, the signs of which are quite clear, and he can't make the decision to kick him out, until it's almost too late.

The book is a gem and you won't find characters like these anywhere else. It's a compliment to Reed's writing that I stayed up all night to find out what would happen when the worlds in his story collided, and the ending is as unusual as those of the other stories I have read by this author. This is not a light read but if you're looking for an intricate plot and multifaceted characters who bring an array of complex human emotions to their story, then look no further. The characters will move you -- to anger, pity and a whole range of other reactions. The love story here is Robert's and Keith's as it plays out in the background like a wonderful melody, because even though Keith is long gone Robert keeps his memory alive through his love for the man who will forever hold his heart . We get to experience Robert's evolution from his early twenties, in the throes of his first love affair, to a middle aged man hanging on to a young lover who is slipping through his grasp. The plot is compelling and the characterizations are superb - there are no perfect people in this book - each character is flawed, some more than others, but in the end there is redemption.

Looking for a totally different book with all the elements that will keep you on the edge of your seat? Try Orientation.

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