Rating: 4.5 stars
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Six years ago a tragedy happened in Daisy, California, a tragedy that killed one person, broke others permanently, and shattered a town. Now one of the broken is returning home to Daisy in a box. The war may have killed Michael physically, but really he had been dead for years. Peter should know, he was there when it all happened.
Peter never really belonged in Daisy. He was brought there to live with his Aunt Aileen when his mother could no longer care for him. And while his aunt was less than welcoming, his cousin Michael made up for everything. Peter idolized his older cousin, and knew that Michael would always take care of him. And Michael did, from talking away his fears at night to punishing the bullies who tormented Peter in school. Then Bodie Kovacs and his sister came into their lives, changing everything. Michael and Bodie became incredibly close, doing everything together. But Peter didn’t mind, he was crazy about Bodie too. And their world narrowed down to Michael and Bodie, with Peter tucked in around their edges. And that was great until their world explodes into a hellfire of condemnation, hatred, bigotry and grief. It came from the townspeople, from family and so called friends, and even from within as blame turned viciously inward to rip and destroy what Michael, Bodie, and even Peter had between them.
Michael fled into the army, forsaking both Bodie and Peter in the aftermath. Bodie too was gone, driven away to nearby Arcata by a town looking to place blame where they could, on fragile gay Bodie who couldn’t withstand the pressure or pain. And for six years, Bodie has remained lost and alone. Now Michael is home again, if only for burial, and the events of six years ago rise up to bring grief and pain back with the body. Peter is committed to finding Bodie. And when he does, Peter is determined that his love can save Bodie where Michael’s couldn’t. Peter is older, stronger, and ready to face the town, and the demons that killed Michael and destroyed Bodie all those years ago. For Peter it is time to stop mourning heaven, and reclaim Bodie and the life they always wanted to have. It’s time to say goodbye to Michael and the past if the future is to be theirs.
Amy Lane has written a beautifully dark story of love, alienation in a small town, and the cost that comes with being different in a place intolerant of change and diversity. Daisy is the opposite of every Hallmark town you see on the television. It’s small size is reflected in the small minded inhabitants, ruled by a conservative church and likeminded preacher. To be different in this town is to court danger. The danger of being bullied and attacked for being different, of being an outcast simply by being true to your nature. Michael understood that even if Bodie did not. Lane paints a realistically grim portrait of this venal little dusty town that has drained the life of its inhabitants through generations of families. She makes us feel the weight of the town’s oppression and the malignancy that drives the actions of its citizens. Indeed Daisy is as much a central character as Peter, Bodie, and Michael. The stultifying nature of life as it is lived on Daisy’s dusty streets and stores plays out in the vividly described faces and body language of the people themselves. I could see everyone so clearly, and understood exactly who they were and what roles they played in town and with each other. These are the wonderful characterizations and details I have come to expect from this author.
And the heart of the story, the three young gay men so damaged by one shattering accident that for one it propels him to his death by army, for another it has meant life lived as a pariah, turning what should never have been blame into a lifestyle of self destruction and numbness, and for Peter, it was the loss of his true family, of his support system, of the only people he truly loved and who left him to grow up alone, filled with grief and anger. Each person is so meticulously crafted so that who they were in their innocence before the accident is a perfect reflection of the older lost versions we see through Peter’s eyes. We feel them breaking as well as understand the actions and elements that caused them to shatter into pieces that will never be put back together the way they were. It all culminates in Peter’s speech at Michael’s funeral that reverberates through the congregation and the reader as well. I could just as easily see a similar speech being carried out throughout the country in towns equally intolerant and full of bigotry, the cause of pain to so many GLBTQ youth. I know I had tears running down my face as he finished.
I don’t think you can safely say this ends in happily ever after. There is far too much damage and pain to overcome before that is a possibility. But Lane gives us a very realistic and hopeful happy for now. And considering what has gone before, they are happy with it and so is the reader.