“Language Lessons” by Jay Bell: A Short Review of a Short Story

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This is a cute (maybe a little too cute?) short story about a 16 year-old guy who because of his parents’ failed marriage does not believe in love. Instead he is really only interested in regularly getting laid. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that especially when you have the raging hormones of sixteen. That’s just who Joey is. When we first meet Joey he is home and sees through his window a guy whom he has longed to snag for at least two years and who has just come home from college. For the next forty pages we follow his escapades which culminate in his seriously falling for someone much to our protagonist’s surprise.

This was a quick, easy, amusing and entertaining story. Earlier this year I read the author’s Something Like Summer which I enjoyed a great deal. This work was not quite up to the caliber of the Summer book but considering its brevity it may be a bit unfair to compare the two works.  It was good as far as it went, just not quite good enough to merit a higher rating from me. I do like the author’s light and breezy writing style and his positive portrayal of M/M relationships. I have two more of his books on my To Read list, including Something Like Winter which parallels the story line of Something Like Summer, only this time through the eyes and mind of the other party in that romantic tale. I posted a review of the Summer book in September. If you are interested you can read that review here.

PS: I am going to be out of the country for a couple of weeks so this will be my last post until I get back. If you like my reviews, thanks. I promise I will be posting another in late October after I return.

“How Long Has This Been Going On?” by Ethan Mordden

How Long Has This Been Going On? by Ethan Mordden is an ambitious, sweeping and panoramic 600 page epic novel that traces LGBT history over a 40+ year span through the lives of a broad cast of characters. The story opens in 1949 at Thriller Jill’s, a Los Angeles gay nightclub where patrons needed to be very discreet; it concludes with the 1991 New York City Gay Pride Parade. Along the way, the story takes the reader to San Francisco, small-town Minnesota and New Hampshire, and of course covers the 1969 Stonewall riots and AIDS.

I came out as a gay man in 1976 and have certainly seen a huge attitudinal change toward gay men and lesbians in the mindset of American culture during my life. I am also old enough to know how repressive American culture was to the LGBT community during the post World War II era and for many years thereafter. Mordden does an impressive job describing just how bleak that world was and how hard the fight was to accomplish the changes many of us today take for granted.

The author introduces us to a cast of wonderfully drawn and very diverse characters. Most notable among them:

  • Frank, the closeted vice cop at the story’s beginning, who later becomes a gay porno star. He is one of the novel’s most memorable characters.
  • Lois, the no-nonsense lesbian owner of Thriller Jill’s and her eventual partner Elaine. Elaine is married when we first meet her and eventually becomes a successful writer.
  • Luke and Tom ” the Twins”, childhood friends from small-town Minnesota whose lives become complicated when sexual longings begin to color their relationship.
  •  Luke and Tom’s close female friend Chris, the primary straight character in the story. She later moves to New York and achieves fame.
  • Walt, Tom’s nephew who grows from a young boy to a grown man.
  • Blue a teenage hustler from West Virginia.
  • and the unforgettable Johnny the Kid, the charismatic, cocky & talented singer/cabaret performer who in Chapter 1 is a 17 year-old and is approaching 60 by the time the story ends.

Many other fascinating characters are introduced throughout the book. Some both major and minor perish along the way; others survive to the end. There is an ever-shifting change of focus from one chapter to the next as the reader is regularly introduced to new individuals. In the hands of someone less skillful this shifting perspective might get muddled; Mordden however succeeds in making it work. He  uses a good mix of humor, sadness and pathos, infusing a sense of life and realism to the story as we join him and his characters in their journeys.

The opening sentence sets the stage for giving the reader the sense that one is looking back from the present to a distant time and place. “In the days when men were men and women adored them, there was a club called Thriller Jill’s on a side street off Hollywood Boulevard”. While primarily told from the third person POV, periodically this changes and it gradually becomes apparent that this is one person’s recollections of these events. That person’s identity is not revealed until the last pages.

While a long book, I never found myself wishing it would end. Each character’s story is fascinating and how their collective lives become intertwined made me want to keep reading. For anyone trying to understand the sea of change that happened within the LGBT community over this time period you need look no further than here. This was clearly one of the best books I read in 2014.

“Family Man” by Heidi Cullinan and Marie Sexton

Family Man

This book turned out to be surprisingly good – not great but compared to some of the M/M stories I have recently read, a definite improvement. As a gay man I like reading stories whose plots include two guys finding each other attractive, having sex and building a future together. I won’t deny that I enjoy being aroused by the descriptions of their love-making but when an author uses the thinnest of plots to essentially write nothing more than pornography, I feel cheated by the author. Regrettably I have encountered that a fair amount in my reading of late. How depressing to then see other readers give those books a 4 or 5 star rating on goodreads!

Much to their credit, Heidi Cullinan and Marie Sexton who co-authored the book avoid this approach or at least do in Family Man, the first book by either author that I have read. The story traces the relationship and romance that blossoms between Vince Fierro and Trey Giles. Vince is approaching forty, has been married three times (each one ending in divorce) and in the first pages of the book is beginning to question his sexuality. On the advice of his sister he heads to one of Chicago’s Boystown bars to check out the scene, hoping to prove to himself that he is not gay. He’s there just a short while feeling he has succeeded in validating that he is straight when in walks the attractive and much younger Trey, whom Vince casually knows from his neighborhood. Trey is openly and comfortably gay but is dealing with a boatload of issues in his life – a mother with severe substance abuse issues, a grandmother whom he loves dearly and whom he feels he needs to care for, two jobs, and school. He feels he does not now have the luxury of time to be dating anyone. In fact he has decided to remain a virgin until he meets the right guy. The two start to talk and Trey convinces Vince to go to another club where they dance cheek-to-cheek to the sexy music of John Coltrane. They quickly become attracted to one another; Trey’s no-sex attitude in fact makes Vince feel comfortable that he does not have to perform. Before very long a romance is blooming.

A lot happens before the last pages not the least of which is Vince coming out to his big Italian family, no small achievement. The book contains its share of humor, pathos and yes some down-and-dirty sex but that last item does not occur until more than halfway through the story. It was a joy to read the poignant connection that develops between the two main characters and to see each of them try to work through the emotional baggage they carry before having to read who stuck what into whom (not suggesting for a moment that was not enjoyable and sexy to read). The authors took the time to build an interesting story and develop appealing, complex and believable characters. What a breath of fresh air compared to some of the smut I have recently encountered!

One thing that I found a little odd about the work was the fact that while you see the story shifting between each character’s perspective, Trey’s vision is written from a first person POV, whereas Vince’s is from a third person POV. The fact that the book was written by two people made me wonder if essentially one author was writing Trey’s part of the story and the other writer was penning Vince’s story. If so it seems a little odd that before the book was published someone did not edit it to make it have a uniform POV. I did not see where this technique if intentional added anything to the story. I guess it would be a good question to ask the two authors.

I do think this is a worthwhile work and would recommend it to anyone who wants an easy, quick and satisfying novel. I posted a similar review on goodreads and commented that I so hate the very limited 5 star rating system that goodreads uses. As has happened so often in the past, for me this book falls between a 3 and a 4 under their system; more like a 7 out of 10. I cannot bring myself to rate this a 4 based on some of the books to which I have given that rating in the past. Thus I will have to knock it down a notch to a 3.

Background Reading for My Novel: “Just Between Us” by J. H. Trumble

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Just Between Us is the third book by J.H. Trumble that I have read in the past seven months and just like her first two she has scored another clear winner with this one. Since  my own book deals with a young gay man in his late teens, I have sought to read books with a similar theme in hopes of learning from others what for me at least works and what does not. It was this mindset that led me to read her first novel Don’t Let Me Go. Having enjoyed that so much I then read Where You Are which I enjoyed even more. Just Between Us is her most recent work. While each of her novels has a common thread of young gay men in love, the author successfully tackles very different topics in each. Don’t Let Me Go focuses on issues of gay-bashing and the challenges of trying to keep alive a relationship when two people are living more than a thousand miles apart. Where You Are dares to take on the explosive issue of student/teacher intimacy. Just Between Us chronicles the hurdles of two people being attracted to each other and then having one of them learn that he is HIV positive.

The main characters of this work are Luke Chesser and Curtis Cameron, ages 17 and 19 respectively. Luke was a major secondary character in Don’t Let Me Go. He is a high school junior and is still recovering from having his heart broken in his first romantic fling. Having an abusive, homophobic father does not help matters any. Fortunately for him his physician mom and younger brother are loving and supportive. He is a member of the school’s marching band which is a big part of his life and that helps to fill in some of life’s blank spaces. Curtis is in college but attended the same high school as Luke. After spending a good portion of his time partying in his college freshmen year he returns home and helps out as a field tech in Luke’s marching band. Unlike Luke, Curtis’ widowed dad is very accepting of his being gay as is his twin sister. The two young men soon become attracted to one another and start spending time together while postponing any sexual intimacy.

The proverbial you-know-what hits the fan when Curtis learns he is HIV positive. By now he cares deeply about Luke and is terrified that he may infect him if they have sex. The remainder of the story focuses on how these conflicted lovers and others around them deal with the news. Having been a sexually active gay man before and during the Age of AIDS and having watched scores of friends succumb to the disease, I fully appreciate what devastating news this normally is for someone. While HIV/AIDS is today not the death sentence that thirty years ago most people viewed it to be, it is a terrifying and life-altering experience for those who contract it and the people who love them. The author does a superior job depicting Curtis’ coping with the news and the stages of grief he experiences: denial, anger, depression and eventual acceptance. The reaction of Luke and others is likewise very believable. The author once again tackles a difficult issue and avoids creating clichéd characters and situations. This is a very moving, at times heart-breaking and at other times triumphal story. Just as she did in Where You Are, the story is told from the perspective of the two main characters and the technique works as effectively in this book as it did in the earlier one.

Rereading my review of her previous works, I see that what impressed me about those stories is much of what I so enjoyed reading this one. Of Don’t Let Me Go I wrote: “a very sweet, tender coming-of-age novel but not one that is overly sweet, throwing in enough drama and darkness to make it all seem very real. All of the characters have their flaws… He is impulsive and foolish at times and certainly does his share of dumb things. There are times when I wanted to kick him in the butt and other times when I wanted to tell him to stop being so insecure.” Of Where You Are I commented: “He is tormented trying to figure out what is the right thing to do, struggling with the collision course of wanting to be there for Robert, the growing sexual attraction he and Robert are feeling for one another, and his terror of where all of this may lead.”  Except for proper names, the comments are just as  true about this work. That in no way suggests the author is somehow using a cookie-cutter approach to her writing but rather that she has the rare gift to make her stories and characters appealing and believable. Not wanting to spoil too much of the plot I will simply say there were several times when I became very choked up reading this book and my eyes started filling with tears. That does not happen often when I am reading and I can only say thank you ever so much Ms. Trumble for your incredible writing talent and for giving me hours of enjoyable reading. You are a true inspiration for me in my efforts. For anyone who has not read any of her books put all three at or near the top of your To Read list. You are in for some phenomenal works. And please, please another book soon I hope!

Background Reading for My Novel: “An Intoxicating Crush” by E.M. Lynley

An Intoxicating Crush (Delectable, #3)

This is the first book by E.M. Lynley that I have read but after finishing it I doubt it will be the last. The story takes place in modern-day Napa, the heart of California wine country, and centers around the relationship of Simon Ford and Austin Kelvin. The two men come from entirely different backgrounds and have very different personalities.

Simon is a native of Napa who has a deep resentment of the nouveau riche who have moved to Napa and spoiled his birthplace by opening boutique wineries that are squeezing many of the locals out of business. He never knew his dad; his working-class mom raised him entirely on her own. Simon is bright and ambitious and has recently started working at a firm headed by the ruthless Mr. Tuchman. Due to his strong work ethic he is quickly making a name for himself there.

Austin comes from the opposite side of the railroad tracks. His father made a fortune on Wall Street and then moved the family to Napa where he opened a winery, just the sort of family Simon so deeply resents. His dad and older brother have lost interest in Kelvin Cellars but Austin has turned it into an award-winning venture. On the surface Austin lives the privileged lifestyle Simon resents but secretly craves. Austin’s lack of business savvy though threatens the future of the business and he is struggling to keep it afloat while doing his best to keep his struggle a secret to everyone including his family.

Simon’s boss sends him on a covert mission to check out Kelvin Cellars to explore the possibly of a buyout of the business. Simon views the assignment as a golden opportunity to advance himself at the firm and improve his lot in life. While there Simon and Austin are almost instantly attracted to one another and soon become involved in a very passionate relationship. Their relationship is threatened when Austin learns of the covert mission, making him seriously question Simon’s intentions.

The author clearly has a great wealth of knowledge of the wine industry and weaves that knowledge through a fascinating and very believable story. This was a very enjoyable and quick read. It also had some of the steamiest sex scenes in it of any book I have read in a long time. As a gay man, I am in awe that the author who is a woman was so capable of depicting in such graphic, erotic detail the intimacies these two men share. At a writer’s conference I attended earlier this year, one of the speakers noted that writing sex scenes can be tricky, something I have discovered in the course of writing my own first novel. The issue becomes how to raise the temperature and increase the heart rate of the reader without sounding ridiculous or silly. There are books, blogs and classes dedicated to this very issue and so I do not intend to write at length on the matter. Certainly the author did an incredible job of raising my temperature and increasing my heart rate while reading the descriptions of Simon and Austin’s love-making. Reading this review you might get the impression that this is a work of pornography and if so that is entirely inaccurate. This is a very well written story that just happens to have some steamy sex scenes in it.

I could see myself going on a binge reading a lot more books by this author. This is one of her newer works and there are quite a few others that involve erotic M/M themes. I regard this as my guilty pleasure novel of the year and will keep her in mind after I have read something dry and/or disappointing and need a little pick-me-up to entertain myself.

Background Reading for My Novel: “Where You Are” by J. H. Trumble

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Where You Are is definitely one of the best books I was fortunate enough to read this year and I have had the good fortune to have read my share of excellent books during that time. In May I read the author’s first novel Don’t Let Me Go which I loved and instantly became a big fan of hers. I checked goodreads to find out what else she had written and saw Where You Are listed as well as a soon-to-be-released new book, Just Between Us. I quickly added both to my To Read list and this month picked up a copy of Where You Are. I definitely needed to find something to enjoy since the last three books I had acquired had disappointed; two of them were so unsatisfactory I did not even bother to finish them which is highly unusual for me. Ooh la la! I could not have possibly chosen a better book to read this time.

The author bravely tackles the taboo subject of teacher/student intimacy and in the process of telling a fascinating story does a superb job of showing the reader that this is not necessarily the black and white issue that the news media and our cultural mores are so quick to paint. Robert Westfall is a high school senior whose world is crumbling around him. His father is in the final stage of a ten-year battle with brain cancer, his meddling, judgmental aunts and their children have taken up residence in the Westfall home and his self-centered boyfriend is totally unsupportive. Added to this is the fact that Robert and his father have never been close emotionally and now Robert is dealing with guilty feelings wishing his father would die soon so that he can get on with his life and be rid of the occupation of his home by his father’s siblings and their obnoxious offspring.

Andrew McNelis is Robert’s math teacher, a young attractive man in only his second year of teaching who is moved by the suffering his star pupil is enduring. He wants to do whatever he can to help Robert in the tough times he is experiencing and tries to give him the attention and support he feels he needs. Andrew also happens to be gay, making it a point to keep his sexual identity a secret at school although it’s not quite the secret he thinks it is. He has a two-year old daughter Kiki whom he absolutely adores and who was conceived with his long-time best friend Maya on a night that they had unplanned sex. As the story progresses Robert and Andrew begin spending more time together, frequently exchanging text messages and in the process becoming more and more attracted to each other. Andrew knows he is walking on a very thin tightrope and realizes he could jeopardize not only his career but his relationship with his daughter and possibly face time in jail if he crosses the line of acceptable teacher/student relationship.  He is tormented trying to figure out what is the right thing to do, struggling with the collision course of wanting to be there for Robert, the growing sexual attraction he and Robert are feeling for one another, and his terror of where all of this may lead.

The storyline is told from the perspective of both Robert and Andrew so the reader has a clear image that this is not the case of a teacher using his power and position to force himself on an innocent child. After reading this book, I do know that I will probably never again hear a news story about a “scandalous” teacher/student relationship and be quick to make harsh judgments.

This is way too good a story to spoil by saying anything more about the plot. It is one of those books I just did not want to put down. One sure indication for me that I am truly enjoying a book is when I realize I have only sixty or so pages left to read and find myself wishing that the book was longer. So it was with this gem. All the characters both major and minor are totally believable and with the exceptions of Robert’s self-absorbed boyfriend Nic and Robert’s aunts all have admirable qualities as well as their share of flaws. Correction: on the other side of the scale from Nic and Robert’s aunts is Andrew’s daughter Kiki who is totally precious.

If you have not yet read this book, pick up a copy soon and treat yourself to a fantastic read. I cannot wait to now read the author’s recently published Just Between Us and can only hope that more books are in the works. Probably not since Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles so captivated me has one author so successfully entrapped me in her snare. I will at year’s end be posting here on my blog a list of the best books I read this year. Where You Are will certainly be on that short list.

Background Reading for My Novel: “Rainbow Boys” by Alex Sanchez

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I generally like to review a book as soon as possible after I have read it, knowing that my recollection of the story’s details and what I liked and disliked about the book are not going to improve with the passage of time, unlike a good bottle of wine. The wisdom of that perspective was born out when I allowed more than a month to pass from the time I read Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez and when I decided late yesterday to write a review. Having read two other books since then, I was struggling last night to remember the minutiae of the novel and wound up skimming it for about half an hour to reacquaint myself with it.

Regarded as YA fiction the book focuses on the lives of three high school seniors, each of whom is in a different state of gay self-acceptance when the story begins. Jason is a popular jock with a steady girlfriend who frequently has dreams about sex with other guys. Kyle knows he is gay but wants to remain closeted both to his classmates and family and who has a serious crush on Jason. Nelson or Nelly as he is disparagingly called by his classmates is out to the world and has a mother who gives him a level of support that most gay teens only wish they had. He and Kyle are good friends; to complete the triangle of emotional entanglement, Nelson secretly swoons over Kyle. When the story begins  Jason with much trepidation decides to attend a Rainbow Youth meeting after postponing for weeks going to it. Amongst the twenty or so youth there he spots Nelson and Kyle and is horrified that he is now going to be outed at school by the flamboyant Nelson. He’s also confused seeing Kyle there who, though while not quite the jock that Jason is, is a star of the swim team and does not fit his image of a faggot.

The novel proceeds to trace the events in the lives of these three young men as their lives become increasingly intertwined and as Nelson and Kyle take on the challenge of trying to start a Gay-Straight Alliance Club at Whitman High. There are wonderfully touching moments in the book, some quite humorous, some capturing the thrill of first sexually satisfying intimacy, and others disturbingly portraying ugly homophobia. I felt the author did a very credible job creating believable characters, capturing the pathos of each of their situations. Certainly the journey that Jason travels is the steepest but by the novel’s end all three individuals are stronger and more self-confident.

At the end of the book the author provides a very useful list and description of ten resources for teens struggling with sexuality issues, such as the GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian Straight Education Network)Advocates for Youth, Youth Guardian Services, leaving little doubt that his story is intended for the YA audience. However this is a book that I believe has a much wider appeal than young adults and one I found not only very enjoyable but very useful for me in writing my novel, whose protagonist is a contemporary gay man in his late teens.

First published in 2001, Rainbow Boys was Alex Sanchez’s first novel and was selected as a “Best Book for Young Adults” by the American Library Association and a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in 2002. This was the first of his Rainbow trilogy; he has written a number of other books as well, all of which have received positive reviews. Thank you Alex for a good story and for helping to make me a better writer.

Background Reading for My Novel: “Running in Bed” by Jeffrey Sharlach

Running in Bed

Running in Bed by Jeffrey Sharlach is a book that I found very enjoyable despite certain reservations I will discuss later.  As a gay man who like the main character Josh Silver came out in the 1970’s and was so impacted by the horror of AIDS, the storyline was both quite believable and fascinating. The tale begins with Josh, a recent young college graduate moving to Manhattan where he has accepted a position with a prestigious advertising firm. At this time he is still in denial that he is gay, just as I was until 1976. He seeks the help of a psychiatrist to “cure” him of his “illness” (check, only I went through that absurd effort in the 1960’s) but finally realizes the futility of his efforts. He initially takes a cautious approach to experimenting with his gay self but once he gets a taste of what it is like to walk on the wild side, he throws himself into it wholeheartedly (double check!).  As the story continues Josh rapidly advances at his firm, has a very active and satisfying sex life and makes many friends, eventually even feeling comfortable coming out as a gay man at work. In 1978 while spending most of his weekends at Fire Island’s hip gay neighborhood The Pines, he meets and falls in love with a man named Tommy who is a popular call boy. Eventually they become a couple. Fast forward now to the summer of 1981 and the first reports in the New York Times of gay men diagnosed with Kaposi’s sarcoma, the disfiguring and at that point almost always fatal skin cancer. Although it would be several years before the acronym was used, this of course was the beginning of the AIDS pandemic that would take such a heavy toll on the gay male population in the USA in the 1980’s and 1990’s. The last third of the book deals with the growing horror of the disease as its impact grows steadily closer and closer to Josh and Tommy’s lives.

Anyone now over the age of 45 and who lived through the nightmarish dawning of AIDS knows just how scary that time was. Certainly as a subgroup, gay men and those close to them were especially susceptible to being in a constant state of fear. The author acknowledges losing both his partner and most of his friend to AIDS during that period and does a superb job portraying the pain and fear that he along with many of us had to bear during that dark period in our recent past. He begins his story at a time when gay men felt liberated, carefree, hopeful and yes safe living a hedonistic life, when it seemed that the worst consequence of being sexually active was a visit to the VD clinic. Sharlach very effectively transitions that world to the horrors and sadness of the 1980’s at the slow pace at which it actually occurred.

Why some who lived a life similar to Josh and Tommy survived and others did not will forever remain a mystery to me. Those who want to provide the simplistic explanation of some divine plan I believe are not only delusional but flat out offensive. To suggest that some omnipotent power gets up every day and after a couple of cups of Morning Joe goes through his/her list and decides, “this one I’ll let live; this one, nope” is as about as close to reality as the idea that Santa Claus decides who’s going to get ice skates and who’s going to get a lump of coal in their Christmas stocking. Just as wild fires destroy whole communities and somehow manage to not touch certain homes in their path, there is no rhyme or reason to any of it. Some of us despite countless times practicing what we now view as unsafe sex never became infected; others of us became infected and yet thirty or more years later are still alive and doing well. And of course far too many who were no more or less promiscuous or unworthy perished.  It is a bizarre, sad but fascinating phenomenon that perhaps one day science will be able to explain.

The reservation I had about the book was that far too often I felt the author dumbed down the reader by explaining things that seemed all too obvious. While using historical facts and events is perfectly fine (I am doing that myself in the novel I am writing), explaining terms at length as though the reader had never heard of them was irritating. At times I felt like I was reading the transcript of a history lecture. A few examples: explaining the derivation and significance of the “Friends of Dorothy” code word for gays and lesbians; explaining the 1982 battle over the use of the word “Olympics” in what now is called the “Gay Games”;  explaining T-4 cell count numbers to differentiate between an AIDS and ARC diagnosis. There were certainly other examples but the point I am making is that this was a work of fiction not a documentary so the repeated drum roll of explanations struck me as both unnecessary and annoying. I am sure that some readers may not be familiar with such terms and events but I suspect they are in a small minority of the book’s audience.

Despite that weakness I thought this was a good snapshot of life in gay America, especially big city gay America, during a critical 15 year period. Published in 2012, it was a quick and easy read and a journey I was glad to take.

Background Reading for My Novel: “Dream Boy” by Jim Grimsley

Dream Boy

I recently finished Dream Boy by Jim Grimsley, the second book of his I’ve had the pleasure of reading this year. The author’s Comfort & Joy I liked very much and it made me want to sample more by him. As much as I enjoyed the first book, Dream Boy proved to be even better. Both stories take place in the American South in the recent past. Grimsley grew up in North Carolina and has lived in Atlanta for many years so he obviously knows the mores and fabric of this area very well. Both books deal with the struggles gay men growing up in the South have to endure.

While Comfort & Joy takes place primarily in Atlanta and deals with the difficulties two grown men who love one another must face, the earlier published Dream Boy by contrast focuses on two teenage boys living next door to each other in rural North Carolina. The physical attraction that develops between the two is almost immediate and very profound. The shy, bright Nathan, younger by two years, has recently moved into town with his parents. Roy, the farm boy next door, has a steady girlfriend and is popular in school although academics are definitely not his strength.  The secret love affair that develops between the two teenagers comes at a dear price for Nathan. Roy has made him swear to tell no on about it, obviously afraid or unwilling to admit to himself his true sexual identity. An important subplot to the novel is the relationship between Nathan and his alcoholic, religious zealot father. Early in the book the author hints that there is something seriously wrong between the two but the disturbing nature of their relationship is only later revealed. Before the story’s end, tragic events happen. I will refrain from revealing the details but the conclusion will lead most readers feeling shocked and sad, possibly in tears.

This is by no means a feel good book. It is disturbing and by the final pages the reader may be wondering the specifics of just what has or has not happened. But the story and characters that Grimsley creates in less than 200 pages are truly unforgettable. Enticing, entrancing, powerful, moving, violent, tragic, sparse, brilliantly crafted and executed, immensely satisfying. Those are just a few of the phrases that I would use to describe this work. It is beyond question one of the most compelling though heart-breaking books I have read in a long time.

The story was adapted for the screen and had a limited release in 2008 receiving mostly positive reviews and starring Stephan Bender as Nathan and Maximillian Roeg as Roy.

Thank you Jim for this jewel of a book and for helping me to become a better writer.

Background Reading for My Novel: “A Boy’s Own Story” by Edmund White

A Boy's Own Story

First published in 1982 and considered by many to be one of the finest works with a gay coming-of-age theme, Edmund White’s A Boy’s Own Story is a nonlinear narrative of a young boy growing up in post-World War II middle America and the struggles he has coming to terms with his homosexuality, an all too common occurrence for those of us from that generation or earlier. This is a pretty cheerless story and one that will make most readers feel uncomfortable, despondent or both when they read it. While not an autobiography the novel reflects White’s real-life experiences: a troubled relationship with both of his parents, their divorce when he was quite young, incestuous feelings for his father, and more. As I read the novel I kept thinking of it as a memoir and now find myself pondering where the line is between fact and fiction in this work.

I first started reading this book several months ago but lost interest and set it aside with the intention of giving it another try at a later time. This time I did finish it and must confess that I am somewhat torn in my feelings regarding this book. On the one hand the author’s writing style is nothing less than brilliant. He has an incredible mastery of the English language and many of the passages are quite vivid and beautifully written. His ability to paint a picture with words is profound. Oh to be able to write so well. However I found the story itself to be somewhat dry and dull. It was difficult to read more than about 30 pages at one sitting simply because the pace of the book was so painfully slow. And while I valued the author’s ability to create wonderful images with his words I felt he did so to excess, so much so that at times I found myself thinking “Enough! Let’s dispense with this and move the story line forward.”

I guess a good way to sum up my feelings was that I appreciated the novel and the author’s ability to describe scenes and characters so well, but I can’t say I actually enjoyed reading it. I am glad to have read this but would hesitate to attempt anything else by the author for fear that I would find it tedious.