Rating: 5 stars
“You’re a veteran of two wars: the one in Europe and the one that kills queer boys the world over. There are bodies strewn from the Bowery to Belgium, and you don’t even have the comfort of a mind-numbing faith to explain why you’re not one of them.”
Michael McCready lives in two worlds. In one he is an ambulance driver and later a physical therapist, or “rubber” as they were called in the war hospitals of World War 1. In the other, he is a man desperate to connect, longing for love, haunted by his unsavory sexual past, and terrified by war-torn memories and nightmares. Overarching both these worlds is the very real guilt of having survived…of having managed to live one more day when so many others did not.
Bonds of Earth by G. N. Chevalier explores the very real torture that inhabits the hearts and souls of two men who have lived through the horror of a world war and now must cope with the half-life existence a post-war America has to offer.
Michael has had a tortured past. After the death of his mother and the abandonment of his father, he and his sister, Margaret, are sent to live with his alcoholic and abusive Uncle Paddy. At the age of 16, after having been knocked about for far too long, Michael escapes to the back alleyways of the Bowery and pleasures men for money. Somehow he manages to complete a year of medical school prior to the war and then drives ambulance for the war effort. After, broken by the killing and death he has seen on the battlefield, he takes work in an army rehabilitation hospital until the stench of severed limbs and moans of dying men drives him back onto the street and into a Men’s massage club…a place no better than a high paid brothel for men.
Up the Hudson River, on a wealthy, but crumbling estate, lives the wealthy John Seward. Returning home from the war after being buried alive in a trench that left some of his men dead and himself a cripple with multiple broken bones, he is now a recluse who drinks to forget, paints the demons that plague him, and lives in a world that is full of shadows and death.
Michael’s Uncle Paddy, after finding out that Michael is a subversive, a “queer,” threatens to expose him to his sister Margaret, the one person who means the world to Michael. Not only that, but at this time in history it is a crime to be found in flagrante with another man and so Paddy holds the threat of turning Michael over to the police as well. Paddy needs money—and Michael is going to provide it. Paddy, a gardener, had trained a younger Michael all the tricks of the trade and now takes him to a small village outside the city to do menial gardening work for the very same John Seward mentioned above. Michael is blackmailed into doing Paddy’s bidding.
The two men meet…argue…fall in love…and fall apart. But all is not lost…no, there is redemption in this story…healing in its finest moment…love at it’s most sacrificial.
I wish I could sit with you, dear reader, and tell you this entire story—but my feeble words would barely do it justice! Instead I want to give you another remarkably beautiful passage for the amazing novel:
“And all at once, the weight that burdened him was lifted away, because for the first time in his life, Michael realized that there was someone else who understood him, who wanted to know him, if he chose to allow it. …It’s beautiful, Michael wanted to say. You’ve made me beautiful.”
Here is the “beauty” of this story. Chevalier takes out and examines that small kernel of doubt…that small place inside us that cries out when confronted with another person’s love…I am not worthy…I will never be worthy. The author masterfully draws it forth, wraps it in clearly fleshed out characters that we are compelled to fall in love with, and shows us the way to push that doubt aside and embrace the love that waits for each of us.
I tore through this book, wanting…needing to know…to see what was going to happen to these men. How were they going to survive the horror their lives had been? How were they ever going to stand still long enough, waken fully enough from the nightmare their pasts had been and see the future, right there, in each other’s arms?
Oh, dear reader do not walk, but instead run to purchase this book. This is literature in its finest moment, with all the beauty and lyricism of a masterpiece that cries out begging to be read again and again. I highly recommend Bonds of Earth by G. N. Chevalier to you! It IS a 5 star read!