Sean Eads is a terrific writer whose genre chops have been established with such great entries as The Survivors and his most recent, The Feast of Panthers. With Confessions, however, he turns his cybernetic eye on so-called literary fiction with an examination of how three lives in the small Kentucky town of Wentz Hollow intertwine. Predictably, his work in this area of queer literature is just as well-imagined and satisfying as his alien invasions or time traveling in Victorian England.
Nathan Ashcroft, Wentz Hollow’s funeral director, is tasked with the cremation of a stillborn baby, but said infant is the offspring of Ashcroft’s old high school crush, Steve Malone, whom Nathan hasn’t seen in thirty years. The child causes some problems not only between Steve and his wife, Meghan, also a high school friend of Nathan’s, but also for the newly arrived in town dentist, Tim Sawyer, a long-out and proud gay man who has fallen into his first ever heterosexual relationship. The third component of the story is Sarah Lawrence, a retired high school biology teacher who has some history with not only Nathan but Steven and Meghan as well. Her suicide and subsequent arrival at Nathan’s mortuary brings along some unwanted memories.
The most impressive thing about Confessions is the differentiation between the characters’ voices. So many times these days, I read stories told from multiple points of view which all sound the same. It’s not author intrusion, exactly, but you can tell the voices are all coming from the same head because they use the same phrasing, sentence patterns, and crutch words. I sometimes find myself having to go back to the beginning of the chapter to see who’s talking, provided the author has labeled them with character names. Although Eads has posted these signs clearly, they’re unnecessary. Nathan’s voice is careful and cautious, taking the feelings of others into consideration over his own welfare. Tim’s is far looser and given to hyperbole, befitting his actions. And Sarah’s voice carries the stern, matter-of-fact precision you’d expect from a retired biology teacher.
What does Eads do with these people? He puts them through their paces, trying to piece their lives together after they’ve destroyed themselves. Bad decisions equal worse consequences, and all of them are attempting to live with or reconcile themselves to the results of their choices. The result is a twisted mass of small town intrigue that defies description without spoilers. Does it have a happy ending? Well, it has a satisfying ending–which is by no means the same thing.
I’m always surprised by the plot and writing choices Eads makes, and this first foray into something other than genre fiction is no exception. Tightly woven and well told, Confessions is a story that will stick with you whether you like it or not. Highly, highly recommended.
© 2023 Jerry L. Wheeler