AUTHOR: Rick R. Reed
PUBLISHER: Amber Quill
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 61k)
GENRE: GLBT drama
Christmas 1983, Robert lost his lover to AIDS. On Christmas in 2007, he found him again…in the body of twenty-four year-old lesbian Jess. He doesn’t know it then, of course. He only means to take a walk, to forget about his increasingly unbearable relationship with his current lover, but discovering Jess about to commit suicide gives him renewed purpose, especially when the connection between them is so instantaneous…
Amber Quill sells this particular story in its romance section, but I have to say I don’t necessarily agree with that appellation. This is a love story, which is far more freeing than the genre definition of romance. More importantly, this is a story about self-identity, about trying to figure out who you are beyond the restriction of conventional labels.
In spite of their physical and financial differences, Robert always thought of Keith as his soul mate, his one true love. He was young, relatively innocent, and pretty, while Keith was a leather daddy. One night of passion should not have led to the most fulfilling relationship either of them had ever had, but it did, only to end as Robert nursed Keith through AIDS. After Keith’s death, he goes through a string of boyfriends who grow younger with the passing years. Ethan is the latest, but Ethan’s addiction to drugs is spiraling out of control, creating problems in their arrangement, turning them into roommates rather than lovers. When Ethan lies about where he’s going on Christmas, Robert waits as long as he can, then strikes out to take a walk and clear his head. He finds Jess about to kill herself over the recent break-up with her lover, takes her home, warms her up, and gives her fresh hope.
The story starts out with an emotional bang. The opening chapter is Robert taking care of Keith on his deathbed, and the palpable sorrow in his life. I would defy anyone not to be moved by it, and in fact, was in near tears when it was over. I suspect it would hit people who have experienced loss like this harder than those who haven’t, but as I fall into the former group, that’s just a supposition on my part. All I know is that I haven’t been that wrecked by a chapter in a long time, and it sucks me into wanting more for Robert as the story progresses.
That emotional wallop shifts the further into the novel you get, however. Ethan’s drug addiction is treated baldly, and anyone even remotely sensitive to this kind of subject – as well as the sex addiction he displays when he’s high – is likely to be turned off by its graphic portrayal. I wasn’t. Each detail helps to paint Ethan into a fully realized person, rather than the caricature he could have been in less deft hands. In his desperation, he latches onto the idea of killing Robert for his money, a villainous act that could have lost him all sympathy with the reader. Because he’s more of a character in this play of events than a plot device, that doesn’t happen. The reader understands what has driven him to this desperation, all because of the prevailing theme of the book, the fact that every individual in this world will, in some form or another, defy the label that has been placed upon him/her.
Nobody is safe from this dissection. Not Keith, the leather daddy who made his fortune writing YA novels for young teenaged girls. Not Robert and Jess, who find a whole new kind of love in spite of the fact that neither is attracted physically to the other. Not Ethan, whose degree with honors in English literature should have put him on an entirely different path than the drug/sex addicted one rushing him to an early death. Not even Tony, Ethan’s drug dealer, who questions his morality when Ethan makes an offer to him he knows he should refuse.
While the reincarnation angle is well researched, it never seems to integrate as organically into the story as other, more salient devices. Perhaps, it’s because that, compared to the moral grayness of the rest of the book, there is no wiggle room in it. It is what it is. The recognition is immediate, if unnamed. The dreams are confirmation. Everything falls into synch almost too easily in comparison to everything else that occurs. I know its purpose is to provide a foundation for the author to further his argument that love is more than body parts, that even that, like the rest of his cast of characters, is subject to defying its conventional labels. I understand this intellectually. It’s the emotional resonance that was lacking. That’s not to say it wasn’t there at all, because it was. It just didn’t impact as strongly as I think it could – or should – have, due to the sheer power encompassed by that riveting first chapter.
Still, it’s a harrowing, provocative read. It’s not for the faint-hearted, but in all honesty, neither is real love.
9/10 – Harrowing and relentless
9/10 – Personalities leap from the page, both good and bad
7/10 – Perhaps the weakest aspect of the novel, though only because the rest of it overshadows its potential richness
9/10 – Gut-wrenching and provocative, both intellectually and emotionally
10/10 – No corner is safe from scrutiny