|Swansea Castle in 1786 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
If you're a regular reader of Book Readers Heaven, you may have red my review of Barrett's fascinating earlier book, Forget Yourself! If not, do take a moment to read it before you leave today...
When Redfern's book arrived with his warmest regards, he said, "...hope you enjoy reading it, and that it gives some insight into a poor and often ignored city, as well as the sometimes fascinating lives of its residents..."
Of course, I hadn't purposely ignored the city, but I admit I'd never heard of it, so...I went out to find out a little more introduction to the city itself. In my opinion, this novel is more character-driven, so I got involved with the people more so than the setting, so you get the benefit of my desire to learn more...both historically and in the present... Despite the song below, it appears to be quite a lovely city...
Swansea: Wales' Waterfront City
It was already bright outside, you could see even through Caroline's heavy woolen curtains, not that she needed them, she could sleep through anything. And there she was, laid over my arm, asleep next to me, some spit stretching from her perfect lip to the pillow.
And fuck, I realized, it really was bright--how late was it? I was supposed to be meeting with my best friend Zebedee that morning, and judging from the light the morning was almost over, and he'd be pissed off if I arrived when it was already afternoon.
I gently lifted Caroline off my arm, breaking the line of spit, then I kissed her and whispered that I loved her--she still didn't wake up...It would be good, seeing Zebedee, I'd not seen him in a couple of days...on the wall by the estate agent's was a poster.
NO TO MILITANT ISLAM--CYMRU DEFENCE LEAGUE RALLY THE BURNED CLUB, OCTOBER 11
I pulled away at the corner, ripping off centimetres, pulling bit by bit, scattering flutters of paper over the pavement, shoving the rest into my coat pocket, pulling at it until half of it was gone, leaving an illegible smeary mess on the wall.
I was mad, I was angry, seeing that shit, and I fumed all the way to Zebedee's house up the hill,
which wasn't so far from my place, where he lived with a whole bunch of people he never saw--messy people who would leave dishes on the floor and clothes in the kitchen sink, so going through his house was always like traipsing through a maze of crockery and old socks. Zebedee lived in a typical Swansea terraced house, small unwashed windows surrounded by an absolute ocean of grey pebbledash. The door--which opened straight onto the pavement, as there was no front garden--was already open, that is, it was open just ajar.
He was in his room, surrounded by his own mess which was spread over the floor so evenly it looked deliberate.
"Zebedee," I said--he hated his nickname. His real name, which I'd only ever heard once, was Ahmed--which he also hated. He was squatted by the TV screen, a game controller in his hand...
"Did you see the posters?" I asked him, kinda careful bt also kinda wanting to know what he thought, him being a Muslim himself, or at least hye was via his parents. There'd been some trouble in the city, anti-Muslim graffiti had appeared here and there. It was that fire, the club burning down--people were saying it was the Muslims as the Muslims didn't drink, which was obviously bullshit.
"I've seen a few," Zebedee said, reaching for a mug.
There wasn't much else to say, so I asked him about his roommates, roommates he never saw anyway, and he asked me about living with Richard. so I told him it was great, sure, yeah, it was great. I mean, we hadn't exactly spoken much, he spent a lot of time on his computer, or reading, but he seemed nice.
"You want to get to know him a bit better," Zebedee told me, "Don't let it get to that awkward point where you're just polite to each others. I mean, look at us, look at this place. I think it's been three weeks since I even saw my housemates. They might have died. Do you think they died?"
"Probably not," I told him, but I suggested we sneak into their rooms to be safe, just to check. The first two were out, their rooms strewn with mess like Zebedee's, but the last was slumped over their bed, looking for all the world like a corpse. Zebedee looked at me, then crept over to them, hesitating before poking them in the side.
He was alive. He didn't like it.
"Just checking," Zebedee explained. The roommate swore.
"Seriously," Zebedee said once we were safely back in his own room, "I'm not sure I even remember the names of anyone who lives here. Spent some time with this Richard guy--oh, and in case you're wondering, I think the posters are a pile of shit."
I handed him the tattered shreds I'd torn from the wall.. He scattered them into the chaos of the floor.
The Giddy Death of the Gays
The Strange Demise of Straights
By Redfern Jon Barrett
With a tight job market and shortage of housing, we find most of the characters in Barrett's novel living in shared housing. Some individuals become close, as friends, while others may not even see their roommates for weeks. Barrett has created quite a number of characters within his novel, but the main characters are Richard, Dom, and Caroline. You will meet each individually, as the book moves from character to character, each sharing part of the story, perhaps added to by their friends at that time; while some others speak on their own. One other character, Rutti, takes somewhat of a lead role--and has a delightful use of language that took me awhile to follow...For instance, the use of "Zie" which I looked up and found to have a number of different uses--so I gave up trying to find them in a dictionary, because I soon got used to reading him! LOL
Rutti and Richard were roommates, but Richard had decided to move out. Rutti is gay; Richard is straight.
Strangely enough, we meet Caroline first. She lives with a group of women who have become close, one claiming to be Caroline's best friend, although by the time we get into the story, I'm not quite so sure she was, indeed, even a friend.
Caroline is involved with Dom, who has just agreed to room with Richard--both straight.
I say, maybe, because when it happened, everybody declared that they were closet gays...
Which they weren't..
But they did fall in love...*
You see, Richard and Dom hit it off right away. They learned of shared interests and quickly started to share them, spending many hours together pursuing those interests...
Until people began to notice and Caroline in particular... Especially when her friends started bad-mouthing Dom...
Combining what is happening in Swansea and the surrounding area and venturing into the lives of several of the minor characters allows readers to gain a much-needed perspective of the environment in which these young people must live and interact. For instance, a local club was burned down and not only the issue of who did it, but the more important one of not having a place to congregate is being widely felt...Friends are important and a means by which they can share their daily lives. One friend is dating another, so they try to match-make friends as they are able...
There are interesting little shorts interspersed that move readers far into the future which, if you are intuitive, might lead you to start thinking how the book ends...maybe...
There is also one token Christian student who, in passing out pamphlets which nobody wants, is taken into one of their homes and given food and shelter--in other words, being treated better than the group that was sponsoring him... An interesting twist that puts a knife where it belongs...in the backs of those individuals who have scorned and denied those who love differently and refused to accept those who have different feelings in relation to sexuality...
On the other hand, from my perspective, who has seen the world move from sweet innocence of friendships into a world that is so sexualized you can't escape being bombarded with sexuality in all its blatant glory, it came to me that we are no longer able to feel special love for friends of the same sex.
You know what I mean... we are now afraid to touch for fear of being accused of sexual harrassment. A pastor once told me he couldn't hug me while I was crying due to restrictions...The examples could go on and on... In essence, we have lost the ability to love friends (phileo)...especially of the same sex...
Now I'm not questioning the various forms of sexuality (eros) when I say this. But when Richard and Dom got friendly and especially enjoyed each other's company, everybody automatically assumed that they were having sex... There in Swansea, the other minor characters quickly started to argue whether Richard was two-timing Caroline, because he loved the man with whom he was now living. Because phileo versus eros love was not even considered to be what had happened... They loved each other...They fell in love with each other... When we say that we normally consider it is a sexual relationship. How sad...
Dare I say that Richard and Dom had merely found a very special phileo/friend with whom he could relate...
Now, this philosophical discussion is part of my thoughts about the book and its impact on me...It reminded me that we, in the United States and across the world, are not even able to claim a close friendship with those who become beloved phileo...friends... Caroline's friends were adamant that she should break up with Dom. Some of Dom's friends escaped from their own friendship with Dom, thinking he was now gay...
Quite a mess, as you can see... But I was intrigued throughout the novel as to what interpersonal relationships were being affected purely because Richard and Dom had expressed love for each other.
Watching the dynamics of what happens among the group of characters was extremely fascinating. What happens is heartwarming, and full of expressions of love toward fellow man. Is there a place in today's world for this kind of love? I think so... Dare I say we are trying to find our way to find and retain loving relationships in today's world of judgment, hatred, and using sex as the predominant (and only?) act with another human being?
This book is a fun way of considering how you feel about other people. Sexual activities are spoken of, but not spotlighted. It is the exploration of emotions that Barrett presents to his readers...and it speaks of individuals being free to express their emotional attachment to others without being labeled gay, straight...or...different...
I as the reader, probably falls into the "different" category because I'm recommending that you highly consider this book. There is a basic story that is so simple, yet so magnificent in impact... Do check it out!
REDFERN JON BARRETT is a literary and speculative fiction writer armed with a doctorate in queer literature. Author of The Giddy Death of the Gays & the Strange Demise of Straights (Lethe Press, 2015), his works have exhibited in seven countries and been translated into five languages. His writing has featured in newspapers, magazines, and anthologies including A cappella Zoo (and its tenth anniversary 'best of' edition), Strange Horizons, the Berliner Zeitung, Witches/Sorcières, Heiresses of Russ: The Year's Best Lesbian Speculative Fiction 2014, as well as Shaped by Time (National Museum of Denmark, 2012). He currently resides in Berlin with his two partners.