Tuesday, March 15, 2011

First Person Plural by Andrew W.M. Beierle

Reviewed by Alan Chin
Published by Kensington Books
Pages: 322

Owen and Porter Jamison are conjoined twins—one body, two heads, two functioning brains, and definitely two very dissimilar hearts. Growing up, they see themselves as a single entity, but as they near adulthood they metamorphose into completely opposite personalities. Porter is pure jock, outgoing, and charismatic. He compensates for his abnormality by being the best red-blooded, all-American football hero in the town. Owen is cerebral, artistic, and a romantic. He compensates by withdrawing into his own world.

As Porter begins dating a high school cheerleader, Owen becomes painfully aware that he has no interest in girls. As Owen explores his feelings, he admits to himself, and then to Porter, that he is gay, which causes a riff between the brothers, but of course, sharing one body, they can’t very well ignore one another. At first Owen is content to settle for unrequited crushes, but soon finds himself exploring his desires with other gay guys. This, naturally, widens the riff between the brothers and expands Porter’s fear that people will assume he is also gay. To survive, they must somehow learn to give and take, to be supportive as well as take what they need. But when it comes to something as personal as sex, can they do that?

I had a love/hate relationship with this book. On the one hand it is exceedingly well written, the characters are deeply drawn and sympathetic, and the situation is fascinating from the first page. I particularly loved the way the ending brought all the issues together without being overly sentimental. This book has all the elements of a really great, highly emotional drama, yet I constantly struggled with my suspension of belief—the idea that a two-headed boy could be the star quarterback at school and date the cheerleader was too much for my imagination to overcome. And that is only one example. These characters were constantly getting into situations where the rest of the world didn’t seem to notice they were a two-headed body. Had they been two bodies joined at the hip or chest—like the brothers in the movie Twin Falls Idaho—then I could have more easily been absorbed into the story, but as it was I heard a nagging voice all the way through the story, a voice whining: no way!

As hard as that issue was to swallow, I actually had a bigger issue with this tale. Once Owen determines he is gay, this tale becomes a series of coming out vignettes. First Owen tries to hide it from Porter, and has to come out to him. Then to their parents, then to Porter’s girlfriend, then to the girlfriend’s family, then…on and on it goes. I lost count of all the times the brothers attempted to hide Owen’s sexuality and then had to come clean to whoever it was they were hiding from. It didn’t take long to become tedious, and in some cases boring.

Still, those two issues aside, the last third of the books saves the day and I ended up pulling for both brothers. It is a unique plot that pushes all the right buttons at all the right times. I truly enjoyed this story, and I can highly recommend it. I look forward to reading more from Mr. Beierle, who I consider to be an exceptional talent.


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