Tag Archives: Family dysfunction

Dysfunction – LA Fields (Queer Mojo)

dys. coverBuy from Rebel Satori Press

Sequels are interesting animals. They need to be aware enough to borrow from their predecessors and different enough to stand alone, yet some authors seem to lose track of the voice–the most essential ingredient in transferring the reader from one book to the next. Not so with LA Fields, who brings back troubled Marley and his equally troubled boyfriend Jesse in Dysfunction, her sequel to Maladaptation and doesn’t miss a beat with either the voice or the characters.

Having escaped from Loweville, Colorado where they were both exiled, eighteen-year-old Jesse and sixteen-year-old Marley decide to go to Marley’s home town in Florida. They are taken in by Kenny, an auto mechanic who lets them live at an apartment in the garage, and his wife Marianne. Jesse takes a job with Kenny, and Marley finds employment at a bookstore. The temptation to see his family is too great for Marley to resist, and he eventually finds himself again entwined with his abusive father, his distant mother and his sisters. After yet another familial battle, his sister Lindsay leaves. Marianne, the eternal mother, insists Lindsay and Marley move back home. When they do, the titular dysfunction really starts to show, leading to ugly decisions and bad choices for everyone.

As with Maladaptation, these characters–especially Jesse and Marley–have an astonishing verisimilitude. This is definitely Fields’s world, and she makes the most of her observations, capturing the broader picture of how these boys feel as well as their angst-ridden nuances. Their relationship is quirky and maybe even a little abusive, but she spares the reader no part of it. Still, at the core, you know Jesse really loves Marley. As much as he can, at least.

But Fields has equal facility with adults. Her portrayal of Marley’s abusive father, Jacob, is nearly as deft as those of the boys. She successfully points the way to the pressures and internal conflicts that fuel Jacob’s rage. His mother is less interesting, but she holds the house together as best she can. Every pistol needs a holster as well as a target. Although not comic relief, garage owner Kenny is a pleasantly welcome diversion from everyone else’s drama. The scenes Kenny commands really provide a respite and a place to breathe. Not so his wife, however, whose meddling precipitates some very real consequences.

Due to the age of the main characters, Dysfunction will probably find a home on the YA shelves, which is a disservice to the book in a way. Fields’s adults are every bit as complex and interesting as Jesse and Marley, which is something you rarely see in that genre. It’s a wonderful, deeply moving novel for any age, and I fervently hope it’s successful enough to warrant a third book in what Fields calls the “Disorder series.”

And don’t forget to catch us on Thursday of this week when I will be posting an interview with LA Fields about not only the Disorder series, but her marvelous Sherlock Holmes pastiche, My Dear Watson.

©  2013  Jerry L. Wheeler

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These Things Happen – Richard Kramer (Unbridled Books)

these-things-happen-richard-kramer-198x300Buy from Unbridled Books

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.

© 2013, Jerry L. Wheeler

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