Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Missing by Drake Braxton

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Seventh Window Publications
Pages: 214

While attending a 20th high school reunion in Alabama, Blain Harrington’s husband disappears. The police are no help. Blain sets out to find the love of his life, only to discover that everything is not as it seems. What starts as a search to recover his lover, morphs into a hunt to find himself.

The first half of Braxton’s debut novel is a bit difficult to read, because the protagonist quickly turns into a whiny, self-absorbed, unlikeable fellow. At the halfway point, the author turns the plot on its head and the reader discovers everything that came before is not what it seemed. That’s when the book becomes interesting.

The story follows Blain’s journey of grief, drugs, booze and sex all the way to the bottom, and then the long climb back up. I’m not sure Blain becomes any more likable in the second half of the book, but the reader understands the character’s motives and hardships. Helping Blain along his journey are two close friends, one a saint and the other a devil, who seem to mirror the battle going on inside Blain’s head.

There are sections of this story that are extremely well written, although sizable portions of it are told through tedious dialog.  Also, I feel the plot lacks imagination. All in all, however, Missing is an interesting read that I can recommend.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Heavens Rise by Christopher Rice

Reviewer: Bob Lind, Echo Magazine
Publisher: Gallery Books (Oct. 2013)

Five Stars Out of Five

Niquette (Nikki) Delongpre lived with her upper-class parents in New Orleans, while they were finishing their showplace estate which they called Elysium, in a swampy bayou area outside of the city. Nikki had been a popular girl in prep school, where she dated Anthem Landry, a handsome but somewhat dim blue collar transfer. They had been apart only a short time, when Nikki went on one date with Marshall Ferriot, who tried to force himself on her, ending the date prematurely. A lasting effect from that evening was that both Marshall and Nikki got infected by a strange parasite, present in the untreated well water in Elysium’s recently-finished pool. Not long after, Nikki and her family vanished, and their wrecked car suggested that they may have died in an accident en route to the estate, though no bodies were ever found in the bayou.

Nikki’s disappearance affected all those she knew, but especially Anthem, who fell into an alcoholic haze soon thereafter. Their best friend had been Ben Broyard, a slight but outspoken gay teen, who now spent much of his time trying to befriend Anthem and try to get him sober. Marshall had attempted suicide, and ended up in a comatose state in a long-term care facility, where the nurses swore that he somehow could control people and small animals just by making eye contact.

Fans of the talented Mr. Rice have been awaiting his new book for over three years, and will not be disappointed. Taking his first giant step into the supernatural genre, the author delivers an engrossing (though a bit overly complex and gory) tale of the mysterious bayou country, with its racial and class disconnects, political and corporate corruption, personal greed and revenge, and regrets for actions that could not be undone. It’s not primarily a “gay book” in itself, though the character of Ben is fully nuanced and somewhat pivotal to the story. Well-written, highly imaginative and worth your time.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Book Review: Desire: Tales of New Orleans by William Sterling Walker

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Chelsea Station Editions
Pages: 169

This collection of short fiction delves into the gay demimonde in New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina. A variety of interesting characters—lawyers, supermarket clerks, drifters, painters and musicians, cabaret singers and writers—alternately dominate the pages and then fade into the background to let the main character, New Orleans, take center stage.

A litany of the city’s bars and restaurants and hangouts have a visceral hold on these men; even when they are far away from this magical city, the memory of it haunts them.

William Sterling Walker writes with wisdom and compassion. His vividly imagined characters seem to embody the ravenous spirit of the city they inhabit. These stories are intelligent and real. They are vibrant and written with carefully chosen words to evoke a mood, and also to touch something deep in the soul of the reader. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The MacGuffin by Michael Craft

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Questover Press (Aug. 2011)
Pages: 302

A cold-case murder of an alternative energy scientist, Dr. Brant, fifteen years ago halted promising developments in the quest for clean energy when the rumored prototype of a groundbreaking water engine was stolen or destroyed. Now Cooper Brant, still grieving his father’s murder, is the architect who designed the new Emery Energy headquarters outside of Palm Springs, California. Brant was selected to design the company compound because he’s married to the daughter of Bix Emery, the patriarch who controls the company, his family, and America’s move from being oil-centric to alternative fuels.

When Cooper discovers an old box his father hid, with what looks like a prototype machine and a stack of old files, the race is on to discover the secret to repower America. But another violent death in the family raises the stakes. When Cooper discovers how the two murders are linked, a grim message becomes clear. He’s next.

This book was recommended to me because the setting is my hometown, Palm Springs. As much as I enjoyed reading the author’s descriptions of this town I love, the real gem in this novel is the authors prose. Each word is chosen with care to give the prose a pleasing flow. It is a pleasure to read. It is what I term a ‘light read’ even though it deals with topical subjects that could have been highly political in another author’s hands. This novel never tries to be anything other than an entertaining read.

As enjoyable as I found the writing, I found the characters uninteresting, so I never grew to care what happened to them. They left me feeling flat. Also, I found the story much too predictable.

Michael Craft is best known for his “Mark Manning” and “Claire Gray” mystery series, both of which, I understand, fall into the category of gay fiction. The MacGuffin, is Craft’s first novel in six years, and is his first novel outside the “gay fiction’ genre.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Scribner
Pages: 262

Eilis Lacey has come of age in small-town Ireland in the years following WWII, living with her mother and older sister. She can’t find a descent-paying job, so she hires on working behind the counter of a grocer, who demands much yet pays only a pittance. When an Irish priest from America offers to sponsor Eilis, she takes off on the adventure of her life, traveling to and living in Brooklyn.

She finds work in a department story, and also finds Tony, a blond Italian from a big family, who slowly wins her love. But a tragedy back in her hometown turns her new adventure on its head, and she finds herself caught in an interesting dilemma.

Toibin has recently become one of my favorite writers, and this novel only made me appreciate his talent even more. It is an engaging and emotionally resonant story, the main characters show a wonderful depth, and the prose is nothing less than stunningly beautiful.

Toibin skillfully captures the desperation, and also the hope and renewed energy of that time in America.  He also captures the youth and exuberance of his characters, and the reader has no choice but to feel their joy, their hope, and their pain. Bravo!