- Romance Challenge
Wow. This is an amazing novel. This is the best book I’ve read so far this year, which is saying a lot since I’ve been reading a lot of classic lit. I hedged on reading it because it’s over 500 pages. But it read like a much shorter book, because I could not put it down.
This is literature, not romance, though it has some strong pining, sexual tension, and a fair amount of sex (most of it not described in detail). There is not an HEA per se, and, while the romantic in me would have liked to see a menage or other manufactured happy ending, it would have been unrealistic. The ending works just as written.
There are many characters in the story, some of whose POV we follow, but the main story is essentially about two men. Alex was born in Santiago Chili and his parents are “disappeared” by a dictator when Alex is almost 11 years old. Alex is sent to live with his uncle in New York. The early tragedy and horror of Santiago strongly shape the rest of Alex’s life. And though he’s taken in by a wonderful family (the Larks), he still deals with trauma. The second man, Javi, was born in Queens. He’s cast out by his family at seventeen after he’s found with a boy cousin (Javi is not gay, though later he realizes he’s bi). This betrayal by everyone he loved devastates his life and though he eventually becomes a male escort, he distrusts romantic love.
These two men have much in common and their lives intersect in a way that is both incredibly moving and one that threatens everything. The story takes place from the 1970s through 2007, and 9-11 is very significant to both men. That day is woven into the story in a realistic and moving way (I cried. A lot).
The story and characters are interesting enough, but the writing takes it to a whole other level. I highlighted like mad while reading. Some pull-outs:
“He had to be careful with these thoughts. They lived like dragons in his heart, chained in a cave and hibernating, exhaling benign wisps of smoke. They were easily awoken, though. The chains could break and then they would be on Alex. Tearing him open as fire screamed from their throats: My mother, my mother, what did you do, where is she….”
“The night threw back its head and laughed, flung delighted arms around Javi and enveloped him in violet-scented rum.”
“He wrote about the way the smile flew up the waiter’s face like a window shade, his cheekbones rising to the bottoms of his glasses. The two bullet-hole dimples on either side of white, straight teeth.”
“He bought a ticket to Crazytown and she got on the train with him to make sure he used the return.”
“His words piled up in her arms. She juggled them frantically, not knowing what to do with his box of anger, this bag of disappointment and this jar of disgust.”
“Alex felt the Earth tilt and adjust beneath his feet. The odd proximity of rough, male skin and its beard growth became ordinary. The strange desire in his chest and groin became normal. The world was surreal but he felt himself present in it.”
The book isn’t about purple prose though, it’s simply beautifully written, sometimes raw and sometimes lyrical. It deserves to be much more widely known than it is. I’d compare it to the work of Joyce Carol Oates, whom I consider one of the best prose writers. I can’t recommend it enough.