Monday, June 2, 2008

Border Roads by Sarah Black

TITLE: Border Roads
AUTHOR: Sarah Black
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 58k)
GENRE: Contemporary drama
COST: $6.99

Brothers are not always born. In the case of Chris, Gary, Clayton, and Luke, they are forged in the Marines, and bound together by honor and experiences nobody will ever have. After the foursome leave Iraq, they return to homes they don’t recognize to rebuild lives they’re unsure they want. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Always, they needs their brothers to make it right.

Loose Id has this labeled as GLBT erotic contemporary on the website, but honestly, I don’t think either the categorizing or the blurb do this story any favors. For one thing, there are three distinct relationships going on with the four Marines and only one of them is gay. There’s no warning that there’s het sex in the story, so someone buying it thinking they’re going to get a gay romance could be seriously upset. There are erotic elements, but they're tastefully done and few and far between. Secondly, though the relationships these men seek out after their return play their part, none of them is any more important than the other, nor is that the primary focus. This is the story of how these four men rebuild their lives, and it’s not just about them. It’s about their families, and the damaged souls that they take in. It’s a story of stark desperation, and it’s painful, poignant, and easily the most gut-wrenching, moving story I have read in a long, long time.

Black doesn’t sugarcoat anything. The scenery is as uncompromising as the men’s situations. The prose is practically tactile, and once she gets over some really passive writing in the opening of the story, it sucks you in and refuses to let you go. You’re left as parched as the unforgiving desert, panting for breath. Even when it hurt, I kept on reading.

It’s not just the description she doesn’t hold back on. She doesn’t just wound one of the vets by giving him a little scar or a limp. Oh, no, she blows half his face off, and leaves a garrulous man now mute. That’s brave. Not only that, it works beautifully, because it does almost as much as the prose in convincing a reader that nothing is safe in this. Nothing is secure. Life for these men is almost as tenuous here at home – if not more so – than it was in Iraq.

There’s an entire world of other characters surrounding the central four. The fact that there are two segments of a 15 y/o autistic boy named Juan that hit me just as hard as any of the others is testimony to the story’s power. But it’s all of them – Chris and the broken Melody, Clayton and Luke, Gary and everyone – that had my heart in my throat throughout most of the novel. I’m a tough sell for angst in written word. I often find it manipulative, or over the top, or maudlin. If this was any of that, I didn’t see it. I was too busy fighting off tears for most of the story.

I gave up fighting them at one point. Sometimes breaking is necessary before being able to put it all back together again. Just like in the story.


8/10 – Excessive passive voice in the beginning slows down what turns into a compelling read.


9/10 – Rich and realistic, with only a couple not making an emotional impact on me.


8/10 – Some of the angsty turns might seem manipulative, but this is minor in the grand scheme.

Entertainment value

10/10 – I cried. I’ll admit it. This reached into my gut and absolutely pummeled me.

World building

9/10 – Everything in the physical world leapt off the page. My primary difficulties came in visualizing all the different men.



1 comment:

Josh Lanyon said...

What a lovely review. I'll make sure Sarah sees this. I couldn't be happier that this wonderful and moving story worked so well for you.