Review: All You Need Is Love by Russell J. Sanders

AllYouNeedIsLove
Rating: 3.5 stars
Buy Link:
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Length: Novel

Dewy Snodgress is a young man coming of age in the turbulent years of the Vietnam War, Stonewall, and Woodstock. Shepherding him along his journey of self-discovery is the free-spirited Jeep Brickthorn who manages to work his way into Dewy’s life, his dreams, and eventually his heart.

Dewy is a  a quintessential “good boy.” He obeys his father, loves his mother, does well at school, and has the perfect American life. Though he does well in school — with the exception of Butch Pollard, his personal bully — Dewy has never has much in the way of friends; he has his girlfriend Lisa, the occasional acquaintance in class, and little more. However, everything changes for him one chilly school morning when Jeep asks for a ride. A ride that changes everything.

Jeep soon becomes Dewy’s best friend, and somewhere between school, gigs, school plays, and soda, the two become more than just friends. This puts Dewy into a difficult position. In North Texas in 1969, being gay is far from being seen as acceptable. Even the word ‘gay’ is treated with as much guilt and furtiveness as uttering a profanity. Dewy knows his father would do more than disapprove — even if he was ‘gay.’  Not that he is.  Even if being near Jeep makes his heart race and his heart ache. Even if it means turning a blind eye to a part of himself.

This story is taken — in part — from the author’s own life, growing up in Texas during the great cultural revelation that brought us Woodstock, the end of the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Stonewall Riots. And that’s part of the problem. These events left a lasting impression upon the author — how could they not — and yet… they left almost no impression on me as a reader or Dewy as a character. During much of the story, Dewy is involved in his theater work, first at a school play, then at a local show whose anti-war production “Love” help gives the book its name. We’re told often and at great length how good of an actor Dewy is, but all I can see from Dewy is the lack of a personality.

Well, that’s not quite true.  Politically correct goody-two-shoes is a valid, if boring personality. His relations with Jeep are so shallow — and Jeep so devoted to him — that I honestly found myself wishing Jeep would find someone better for him. Not that we see much of Jeep. He and Butch and LuLu are only seen through Dewy’s distracted eyes as he focuses on his play.

Part of the problem with this book is how personal it seems to be for the author. This story takes place during the years when he, himself, was a young man coming of age, and his personal memories and feelings seem to shade the story. I wonder if Dewy is also a bit too much like himself, because Dewy is too much a mouth-piece and too little a character. He treats Jeep coldly and dismissively and yet somehow manages to stay perfect and PC and acts so magnanimous when he finally needs a shoulder to lean on and decides he wants Jeep back in his life.

A boring character can be forgiven — even a Marty Stew can be forgiven — if there’s a story worth telling around them. Unfortunately, the only story we see is the story of Dewy and the Great Acting Talent (and we’re told over and over and over how talented he is) while the story of the Vietnam War (which the play is about) or the music scene, the civil rights movement, or any of the cultural revolution is left in the background, brought out only when Dewy has to feel a certain way or have an opinion about a certain thing.

It’s very well written and evokes the feel of 1960s small town America with delicate, simple ease. The author writes a believable book, just not an interesting story.

A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.

elizabeth sig

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