Friday, July 14, 2006

Review: One of These Things Is Not Like the Other

D. Travers Scott. One of These Things Is Not Like the Other
Published by Suspect Thoughts Press
Reviewed by Kay Sexton

Reality skews as Jake Barnes kills himself, leaving his quadruplet sons a message: one of you is an unrelated outsider. The four, spread across America, converge on a woman who may be the outsider’s mother. On the way to meet her, a series of murders threaten them – and they threaten each other.

Part horror, part magical realism, this novel is also a road story and an exploration of identity and sexuality. Kidnap, shape-shifting, murder and repressed sexuality permeate the story: one brother is openly gay, another represses his sexuality, a third is converting to Judaism, but all are responding to the figure of the father who warped their childhood and still threatens them after death.

Jake Barnes Senior, for all the sons are named for their father, speaks throughout the story in tight, internally alliterative prose which is a delight to read, and the careering journeys of the four Jake Barnes travelling to find themselves and find out the non-brother provide a snapshot of the seamier aspects of America. The reader has to work pretty hard to keep up with the identity shifts, but the ending provides a nice enough twist to reward the effort.

Kay Sexton is a fiction writer, editor and freelance journalist: she blogs about writing fiction
here and has a regular column here.

Review: Ron Nyswaner's Blue Days, Black Nights: A Memoir

Ron Nyswaner, Blue Days, Black Nights: A Memoir
published by Advocate Books
Reviewed by Gregory Woods

This brisk memoir will provide you with everything you didn’t know you needed to know about Ron Nyswaner, the man who wrote the screenplay for Philadelphia. The book’s main focus is his relationship with his master, a Hungarian hustler. Nyswaner falls in love with this man, and then suffers the usual problem of not knowing if his love is reciprocated, or whether he is just getting what he has paid for.

Nyswaner sums himself up in one sentence: ‘I was a middle-aged man who had loved a hustler; I was moderately successful in my work, abjectly lonely, probably alcoholic, certainly drug-addicted, self-absorbed, pathetically grandiose, but not without a sense of my own ridiculousness.’ To this vibrant mix of confessed weaknesses we should add self-harm and suicide attempts.

This is serious stuff, but Nyswaner can’t decide how seriously to take it. He has not quite shaken off the crowd-pleasing instincts of the Hollywood hack, so he has to make light of some aspects of his own abjection. But the book survives its uncertainty of tone. It would make a better film than Philadelphia.

Gregory Woods teaches gay literature at Nottingham Trent University. His poetry is published by Carcanet, his criticism by Yale University Press.