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Multiple points of view are tough to pull off. Many people find them distracting, and anything that takes the reader out of the narrative detracts from the immersion required for involving fiction. Done well, however, multiple points of view can provide beautiful insights into characters or a fresh look at the situation at hand. Thankfully, Richard Kramer handles them with assurance and aplomb in his first novel, These Things Happen.
Fifteen-year-old straight boy Wesley has moved in temporarily with his father, Kenny, and Kenny’s boyfriend, George in a cramped space above George’s restaurant, Ecco. Kenny, a lauded gay activist, isn’t as accessible as Wesley needs him to be. Wesley’s best friend, Theo, has just been elected class president and comes out to the whole school during his acceptance speech. This revelation leads to a gay-bashing in which both Theo and Wesley are injured. That incident changes not only the family dynamic between Wesley, Kenny, and George, but also that of Wesley’s mother, Lola, and her husband, Ben.
By my count, there are twelve shifts in point of view. Most characters have more than one opportunity to have their say, with the odd exception of an ER receptionist who dated George once. Aside from the latter, which doesn’t add much for me, all these shifts make sense in terms of the plot turns and come just when you might expect them to. Given Kenny’s inherent absence from home due to the extraordinary demands on his time, George becomes de facto head of the house and the biggest influence on Wesley. Kramer returns to George’s and Wesley’s point of view most often, which is fortunate, because these are marvelous characters.
George is a former stage actor who never moved away from New York City’s Theatre District, where his restaurant is. He has absolutely no experience with children and has never desired any. When Wesley moves in, however, George serves as a positive example for Wesley in that he can not present a false face and can be no one other than who he is. As such, he has the biggest impact on Wesley’s life. Wesley is crying out for direction, as are most fifteen-year-olds, and of the ones he’s presented with, George’s seems the only true path because George is the only one who actually lives his own truth. Watching them talk together is an intricate dance of truth/not-truth, bluster/vulnerability, and bullshit/bullshit. Their relationship is as complex as it is simple to understand, and Kramer does a wonderful job of painting this portrait in black, white, and grey.
Kramer’s dialogue shines, but that’s only expected since he has a great deal of experience writing for television (Thirtysomething, My So-Called Life and others). However, he also has a gift for internal monologue. My only complaint — and it’s a very small one — is that he needs to learn how to mix the two up a bit so we don’t have long stretches of unrelieved dialogue or unrelieved monologue. That said, the final scene between Wesley (who has been told by his mother it’s too dangerous to stay with his father and George any longer and wants him back home) and George (who she’s accused of molesting Wesley) melds both elements beautifully. It’s poignant and revelatory and provides the perfect climax for this story.
Kramer’s prose is nicely turned; it’s flashy enough to be impressive yet never gets in the way of his sharp insights into the minds of boys and men and those in the throes of becoming. I had expected to see more of Wesley’s best friend, Theo, but by the end of the book with that pivotal scene on a rooftop overlooking Ninth Avenue, I didn’t miss that relationship at all.
These Things Happen is a wonderful read, full of wisdom, humor, and wonder. Highly recommended.