Thursday, May 21, 2009
Reviewed by Alan Chin
(PUBLISHER: MLR Press, 2009, $13.49)
Donald and his younger lover, Mark, strolled from the Brig (the leather bar where they had spent most of their evening) back to the alley where they had parked their car. It was late, the streets were deserted. They were playfully drunk and very much in love. The night’s chill made them anxious to be home where they could complete their joyous evening with more intimate activities.
Justin, a sixteen-year-old with an edge, was joyriding with his two buddies Ronny and Luis, both of whom were in their twenties. The night had been exciting for Justin. He’d had enough weed and beer to send him over the moon, and being with older thug types that he looked up to, gave him a quiet satisfaction that he, too, was a tough and dangerous man, not to be trifled with.
Everything was going great for Justin, and for Donald and Mark for that matter, that is, until their paths collided. Justin went along for the ride when Ronny pulled the car to the curb and said they should give those two fags a good ass-stomping – something to keep them out of the neighborhood. But Justin didn’t notice the baseball bat in Ronny’s hands until it was too late the stop the deed. How could something as innocent as name-calling and a little slap-slap turn into something so brutal, so deadly? And what was Justin supposed to do now that he was an accomplice to murder? Suddenly, he didn’t feel so tough and dangerous.
Rick Reed has created two touching love stories deeply embedded within a tale of hate, fear and coping – the love of Donald for his lost lover, and the love of Uncle Walter for his troubled nephew, Justin. It is tense, riveting, honest, sometimes brutal, and definitely not for the squeamish.
After that first fateful night, the author takes us on a journey that follows two paths simultaneously. The first path is Donald trying to pull his life back into some kind of order after he survives the vicious attack that kills his lover and leaves him injured. The second path follows Justin as he tries to extricate himself from his thug buddies and return to a more wholesome life by hanging out with the only person in his life that seems to have it together, his gay uncle, Walter.
It is a touching web of regrets and coping, until Donald and Justin’s paths collide a second deadly time.
Looking back, the first thing that struck me was how well the plot was crafted. Rick Reed knows how to put you on the edge of your chair and keep you there. As the story unfolds, the writer in me felt a little taste of awe at the author’s skillful hand. The depth of the characters was also notable. The reader understands their frustrations, their motivations, and their pain with exceptional clarity. The prose, like the story, is gritty and hard driving. In my view, Mr. Reed has created a winner.
I did have a few issues that slightly detracted from my enjoying the story. In several areas I felt that the author did too much telling and not enough showing. I wanted him to trust me, the reader, more to understand the emotions without telling me.
I also had an issue with the number of improbable coincidences that cropped up, like Donald and Walter living in the same building, to mention only one. Each time the story presented an improbable coincidence, it pulled me out of the story and reminded me that I was reading a fictional story, not living though something tragic, and a story that needed something slightly unbelievable to make the plot work.
The last minor point I’ll mention, without giving too much plot way, is that the ghost of Mark makes several appearances in the story, seemingly to protect Donald. It works well in this story because it reveals the depth of their love for each other. My issue was merely that I’ve seen that done in many novels and movies, and am feeling that it’s a bit over-done.
Those small issues aside, I found it a thoroughly well-written story. It is not an easy read, due to the dark content and complex emotional interactions, though it is well worth the effort. If you like a well crafted suspense story and have nerves of steel, then by all means, this will keep you up nights until you’ve finished it, and perhaps even after.