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I feel awkward when writing a less-than-positive review since, as a writer, I don’t like them myself, so the first thing I’d like to do is link readers to a glowing write-up of this book on Rainbow Reviews by a reviewer I respect very highly.
Now then, I first want to point out the promotional material for Miller’s book. He claims he couldn’t find any gay books he could relate to, so he had to write one. He says gay books of the past don’t speak to his generation, and they are “starved for a voice of their own.” Miller basically asserts that he is that voice they’ve been waiting for. Okay, so it’s a bit difficult not to think “Buddy, you’re really asking to be knocked down a peg,” but I did my best to keep an open mind. After all,sometimes when people make big claims, they follow through.
However, let’s take his assertion that his generation is starved for a voice. I submit toyou the anthology, Cool Thing (Running Press), edited by Blair Mastbaum and Will Fabro, that collects eighteen works by young authors. I also need to point out the efforts of Alyson Book’s Don Weise to bring new voices (not necessarily are all of them very young, but many are) in anthologies such as the forthcoming Men to Men as well as anthologies he produced for Carroll & Graf (Freshmen, Freshmen 2).
Second, let’s look at Miller’s statement that his work is unlike any that preceded it. His character is beaten by homophobes in high school. That was somewhat compelling, but that’s occurred for decades. In college, the character’s LGBT group was attacked by conservative campus groups hoping to shut it down, and they received no help from the administration. Okay, but that happened ten and twenty years ago, so it’s also not revolutionary.
Third, the main character complains that “everywhere you look in the gay scene nowadays you find nothing but whores and their past. You go to a bar, right, tell your friend you think that guy over there is cute and they’ll tell you not only is he just skin deep, but he’s also slept with so-and-so, and then points to or names 10 more. It’s disgusting.”
Anyone who has read any gay fiction will have heard that argument dozens of times.
Still just because a book is retreading covered ground doesn’t make it bad, so in addition to somewhat thin plotting and slow pacing, what sinks this novel for me is the dialogue. Here’s an example:
“What are you doing here?” Jake asked.
“Yeah, I was-ah, hungry.”
“And you thought you’d drive across town for Mexican?”
“Sure! Why not?!”
“I get off work in a few minutes. I’ll join you.”
Jake walked Sean to a booth in the smoking section, where it was deserted. Jake came back afew minutes later and they ordered. Jake put in the order personally, which also meant that he had to serve it.
“I know, it’s not authentic, but it works,” Jake said.
“It’s fine. I like nachos, authentic or not. You can’t really mess it up! Well, unless you don’t have enough sour cream, of course.”
“I can get you more—“
“No, they’re okay. Don’t worry.”
“No, they’re not.” Jake got up and stole some extra sour cream.
“You didn’t have to do that,” Sean said.
So, we’re given a lot of bland interaction that lacks tension and doesn’t move the story forward. There’s much more of that including one scene where Sean’s lesbian friend, Cathy, does a “victory dance” after calling her cheating ex-girlfriend “boring.” To me that felt like such a let down. With maybe a little polishing, that interaction could probably have been more powerful.
I should say that the author is only twenty-three, and at that age, my writing was far inferior to Miller’s and my writing now is still far from being above reproach. While not eloquent, Miller’s prose is serviceable and literate which puts it ahead of most that’s self-published or e-published. Also, Sean is a brave character, and his attitude, that one shouldn’t let a disappointing or depressing past effect the present or future, is a commendable and refreshing one. I think Zea Miller is a promising talent, and he certainly has the needed confidence to stick to his craft and succeed with flying colors.
I should also point out that I understand a bit of Miller’s perception of “older” books. In college, I asked a visiting professor who was an editor of gay fiction why a certain book written in the 70s was considered the “pinnacle of gay literature.” The professor responded gently, “I think you had to be there.” So, yes, there can sometimes be a disconnect. The depressing, hopeless tone of that novel seemed removed from me at a time when gays had become much more visible and accepted. Thus, Miller is right that young writers should and will represent the changing times and make an impact on the way we view the gay conditi
on. However in my humble opinion, Amnesic Nostalgia doesn’t quite do it.
Reviewed by Gavin Atlas