Background Reading for My Novel: “These Things Happen” by Richard Kramer

These Things Happen

This is a book for which I definitely have mixed feelings. On the one hand I felt that both the plot and the characters were very interesting and I had early expectations that I would much enjoy reading this work. However, I found the author’s writing style to be uneven and at times confusing and irritating, so much so that halfway through, I considered abandoning it. I did ultimately finish it but set it aside for a few days before resuming reading. Fortunately the book is only 256 pages, 30+ of which were non-text. Had it been longer I probably would not have finished it.

The plot centers around two Manhattan high school friends, Wesley and Theo, and the events and people in their lives over the stretch of a few days. Theo has just been elected class president and in his acceptance speech outs himself as gay, which comes to the surprise of everyone, including Wesley. The POV changes with each chapter to include not only these two characters but Wesley’s divorced parents, Kenny, an active and highly sought-after gay rights attorney, Lola, a successful editor, and both of their respective mates, George, a former actor, now restaurateur, and Ben, an ophthalmologist. Add to this mix the POV of two minor characters, Lenny and Jerry. Wesley at the age of 15 has recently moved for one school semester from Lola and Ben’s swanky uptown condo to the cramped theatre district quarters of Kenny and George, everyone having agreed how important it is for the teenager to get to know his dad better. Unfortunately Kenny is always so busy that he and Wesley spend almost no time with one another. On a personal note as a gay man who has a grown son with whom I now have a solid relationship, I wanted to nudge Kenny to not make the same mistake I did and to find more time for his boy. It also would have been nice to have had an ex-wife who was as open-minded as Lola but that’s another story. As the story unfolds it becomes clear that it is George who is actually fulfilling the fatherly role rather than Kenny. In fact it is obvious before the story’s end that the bond between Wesley and George is the pivotal relationship. The first half of the novel is written in a humourous tone but then Theo and Wesley are attacked by gay bashers, forcing each of the six characters to re-examine their feelings and attitudes. While it is apparent that all of them on the surface have progressive sociopolitical ideals, underneath the surface there are elements of homophobia and self-loathing in some of the adults.

As I commented earlier, interesting plot and characters. The problem I had with the book was a somewhat choppy writing style. In particular, there were sections with little more than lengthy stretches of short dialogue and very little variation in the talking style of the characters, forcing me to re-read sections just to figure out who was saying what. I would have preferred less dialogue and more detailed descriptive passages. The problem was compounded by the ever-changing POV from chapter to chapter. Ordinarily I very much enjoy a novel with multiple POV’s and think if the author’s writing style had been smoother I would have here as well.

Published in 2012, this is Kramer’s first novel although he has previously won accolades for his work on television’s “thirtysomething” and “My So-Called Life.” Having never watched either of those shows I was not familiar with the author and this was my first encounter with his work. Having now learned this about his background helps me better understand his writing style since the work for me reads more like a screenplay than a novel. In the end I am glad I finished reading the book despite some of the frustration I encountered during the experience.

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