Archive for August, 2011

Mysterious Skin by Scott Heim

Scott Heim portrays slowly recovering memory of trauma by fracturing it among the different characters, particularly the geek and the streetwise kid who later becomes a rent boy who said, ‘Hollywood would never make a movie about us.’ – which of course, they did. His parents return home at 3am and his mother saves cocktail umbrellas. One psychotherapist has suggested that the way the story unfolds is fairly typical of how people deal with traumatic memories, though our own psychotherapist member argues that every one is different in the way that they process information and family secrets.

The subject matter is such that many people would find this book harrowing but I found it, if not ‘entertaining’ absorbing. I did, however, find some Americanisms annoying, e.g. ‘crawl space’ and ‘to touch it (Neil’s hair) would be like touching corduroy’

One of our members read the whole book in one sitting because it was so engaging, another said that it was ‘beautiful and well-crafted.’ One member pointed out that the ‘moral landscape’ of this book mirrors the flat physical landscape of Kansas, where the story is set.

I shall never see folk who believe in UFOs or in devils in quite the same way again. What awful experience have they undergone that makes them believe so irrationally? Is abduction by aliens, one member asked, really to do with the abduction of memories?

The author avoids a ‘victims’ and ‘monsters’ scenario: the paedophile coach is portrayed as an immature adult and there is a telling juxtaposition, at the end, as the innocence of the Christmas carol ‘Silent night…….holy infant tender and mild’ sung outside contrasts with the recollection of innocence violated and stolen inside. One of the children was not completely innocent: ‘Half of me knew if wasn’t right, the other half wanted it to happen.’

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About the book reviews

Some groups expect, as a matter of course, that anyone who introduces a book will write a review before the meeting and amend it in the light of comments made from members.

That is not how we operate.

Most of the reviews on this blog are by the convenor of the group who also takes into account the contributions of other members when the book was being discussed.

Members are encouraged to write their own, alternative reviews or to commend/correct the material here.

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Hero Perry Moore

I guess this book is aimed at sixteen-year-old boys but I’d want to encourage them to read something deeper than this.

There are some good observations, e.g.  ‘Most of them don’t like to be reminded of how they looked thirty pounds ago’

There also some odd things, e.g. the ‘baddie’ has indestructible testicles and he doesn’t breathe yet he has ‘super breath’.

I only read it because I am part of a book group. Many members didn’t even bother to finish the book.

There are some very poor phrases, e.g. ‘My stomach dropped to my feet.’ And ‘My insides were liquefying.’

There is a powerful description of Ruth’s boyfriend getting beaten up – one of the best bits of the book. Also vividly described is the hero’s father’s place of work.

The book is infused with Christian values and, if the large building at the book’s climax is a reference to the Twin Towers of 9/11, then American values. The ending hints at self-sacrifice and there hints earlier on too, e.g.  “Later, when I looked down at the ring on my finger, the stone sometimes felt so heavy that I could barely lift my hand. It can be an awful responsibility when you’re someone’s only hope..’ Also ‘Your father had been first to respond to the crisis. Despite his lack of superspeed, he was always vigilant that way. It was a last-ditch effort at saving the world. Blowing up a few buildings is a lot better than an exploding planet, but people aren’t very interested in simple arithmetic when there’s blame to assign’ also the sacramental description of the ring as ‘an outward symbol of an inner belief..’

Star Trek, Terry Pratchett, Tolkein and Douglas Adams create a more convincing fantasy world than this book.

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Future Meetings in 2018

Contact us to join our future meetings:

  1.  October 30 Boy Erased: A Memoir of Identity, Faith and Family by Garrard Conley (Harbourside Venue)
  2.  November 26 History of Violence by Edouard Louis (Bishopston Venue)
  3.  December 12 Breaking the Code by Hugh Whitemore (Harbourside Venue); we shall also choose new dates
  4.  January 2019 (date tba) Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow -Yuval Noah Harari; we shall also choose new books
  5.  February (date tba) The Madonna of Bolton by Matt Cain


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The Velvet Rage: Overcoming the Pain of Growing Up Gay in a Straight Man’s World by Alan Down

There is something in it

That the author was raised as a Christian fundamentalist may explain the template through which he sees his clients. His central thesis is that it is not being gay, per se, which damages people’s self-esteem and emotionally disables them. Rather, it is the fact that gay men have to hide from straight society, having been taught that they were unacceptable. This explains the high suicide rate and substance abuse.

The author claims that the damage caused to gay men is unlike that of any other minority group. A distant relationship with a father, compensated by an over-doting mother is not the cause of homosexuality but is caused by it. Really? I would have thought that most people born before the 1960s had a distant father.

Lacking validation from their families, gay men seek it by being the best at their jobs, have superior `fashion skills’ and go `over the top’ if someone else makes them feel invalidated, for example by postponing a lunch date. I think this is a gross stereotype/

Why do so many gay partnerships break up? According to the author, the odds are stacked against two wounded people sustaining a relationship because a life of hiding and splitting makes authenticity, honesty and vulnerability difficult. Is the author not aware of the similarly high number of heterosexual couples who split up?

Gays who seek sex as a form of validation will tire of a partner with a lower sex drive. Is the author unaware that straight couples often have the same `problem’?

Where I most take issue with the author is his statement that homophobia in adolescence is natural. They used to say that about racism. If it is right, all our work in schools to tackle it is doomed to failure.

The book group suggested that the only thing that distinguishes gay from straight men is what they fancy lust/love-wise. However, some went on to say that though the author’s Christian background and his rebound from it have shaped his perceptions, and though this is an American book based on work with clients who encounter more religious fanaticism that here in the UK, there is’ nevertheless, “something in it”. That a gay man’s first love becomes a template for all future relationships, especially if there was rejection, that one will not find an ideal partner from a tick list of desirable qualities and that, controversially, because people who have been abused often abuse others, sado-masochistic sex is a playing out of past injuries – then again, is it not the case that S & M partners play within boundaries and have a code word for `stop now?’

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The Spell by Alan Hollinghurst

Drugs and rent boys in……Bridport?

Well-written, but not as good as his earlier works. Rather vapid gay characters who seem not to have much of a life beyond sex, drugs and partying. I can’t imagine much partying going on in a small village near the small town of Bridport and I am not convinced that a young man would be wearing a tank top in 1999, though I gather they made a comeback for a short time.

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Sellevision: A Novel by Augusten Burroughs

If you want belly-laughs

The seedy world of TV advertising, jingles and compulsive shoppers, small-time front people for a TV channel deluded into thinking that they have celebrity status and the normal [problems people have make for a very funny book. It’s a send-up of a send-up and the plot has many surprising twists and turn. Not a book for you if you seek the meaning and purpose of life but if you want an easy read and some belly-laughs this is your book.

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