Buy it now from Rebel Satori Press
Unrequited love comes to us all at one time or another, but
it’s particularly painful when you know from the get-go that it won’t work out.
You forge ahead anyway, leading with your heart despite the warning signs. And
when the letdown happens, the foreknowledge that it was inevitable doesn’t stop
the hurt. That’s the fate of Harry Charity in Larry Closs’s novel Beatitude.
Harry Charity and Jay Bishop are office-mates at a New York
entertainment magazine, but work isn’t all they have in common. Both of them
are big fans of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road and the whole Beat Generation
movement. In fact, they bond over the Beat Holy Grail—the original scroll
manuscript of Kerouac’s best known work. The problem? Jay really loves his
fiancee, Zahra. And Harry really loves Jay—just like he loved Matteo, who was
also unattainable but for different reasons.
It would be tempting to make Zahra the villain here, but
Closs wisely avoids this trap, keeping her in the shadows for the first few
chapters and making her appear somewhat inscrutable when she does show up. That
gives her a distance that allows us to focus on Harry and Jay. Likewise,
Harry’s relationship with Matteo isn’t shown in detail until about halfway
through the book. Those flashbacks, however, are all the more revelatory for
the delay. Their absence lets us see the patterns Harry establishes with Jay so
that we can better see the similarities between the two relationships.
One of the differences between them, however, is the danger
factor. Jay is far more laid back and less explosive than Matteo. Their outings
are more intellectual and less fueled by alcohol—still, at the end of the night
Harry finds himself sleeping alone, emotionally unfulfilled by either of the
men he’s fallen in love with. His dalliance with Matteo, though, eventually
reaches an end when he can no longer stand the pressure. He (and we) hope his
connection with Jay will not be severed as gruesomely.
Closs definitely knows his Beats, drawing an interesting
portrait of Allen Ginsberg—including a fictional (I assume) interview with the
poet as well as featuring two previously unpublished Ginsberg pieces. Ginsberg
was a peculiar person; distant and mistrustful or warm and approachable depending
on the minute you caught him in. Having taken one or two of his classes at the
Naropa Institute, I can vouch for the veracity of Closs’s
My only quibble with this interesting and heartfelt
examination of the differences and similarities between friendship and romance
is Harry and Jay’s final telephone conversation—well, the one that ends the
book anyway—in which they address each other as “bro.” A perfectly acceptable
sobriquet these days, I suppose, but one that to my mind, tags their
relationship as more superficial than I think Closs intends. But perhaps that’s
my own prejudice.
Beatitude is a fine, poetic book, full of insight and
sumptuous writing—perfect for meditation on love and friends.
Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler