Some books slap you in the face with action and plot in the first few pages. Others have you turning your head every which way trying to keep track of everybody. Still others slide up next to you, put an arm around your shoulder, smile and say “let me tell you a story.” Alex Jeffers’ Safe As Houses is the latter kind.
It’s the story of Allen Pasztory, and his relationship with his husband, Jeremy and Jeremy’s son, Toby. It’s also the story of Allen’s AIDS and how it affects them all, but it is not … repeat, not … one of those screamingly depressing books about the epidemic which were epidemic themselves in the early part of the 90’s. Jeffers’ Allen Pasztory does not play the victim and doesn’t succumb, though many of his friends do. Will he? Of course he will, but he will do it off-screen with grace and dignity. There will be no sequel.
And that, for once, is a shame. Jeffers’ characters are beautifully detailed and scarily alive. But along with Allen and his older, yet younger man Jeremy, Jeffers’ best work lies in Jeremy’s son, Toby. We see him grow from a boy to a man, enraptured by all the stages in between as seen through Allen’s perspective. Also deftly handled is the relationship between Toby and Allen’s sister’s son, Kit. Straight Toby and gay Kit have many deep, one-word conversations that only people who know each other better than they know themselves can understand.
Some might call Jeffers’ use of detail exhaustive, but I think it works for him. His characters feel rooted in their places and that allows them to grow more organically. His description is not wanton writing –it all has a purpose and a meaning to someone on the page. I was going to choose a representative passage but found separating one from the rest impossible. It all works together as a whole.
My advice? Buy Safe as Houses and set it aside for a rainy day. When that day rolls in, grey and gloomy, light a fire, curl up beside it with a nice glass of wine and let Jeffers weave his magic. It’ll be sunny again before you know it.
Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler