You often hear how Amy Lane is the queen of beautiful angsty stories. I have read numerous comments and reviews of her work, as well as reading much of it myself, but I am fairly certain nothing prepared me for her latest serial release, Beneath The Stain. I must admit—I cheated. Rather than have to endure the delicious dollops that others had to when they waited to receive this incredibly gorgeous novel in the intended serial format, I waited until it was released in total. I have been informed that I may have missed some of the treasure trove that came with being patient and reading this novel over the weeks it was released. I may have to go purchase this in its original format just so I can prolong the delightful experience of reading this tour de force by the remarkably talented Amy Lane.
From the tender age of 14, Mackey determined that somehow the music inside him must be released and his three brothers and their closest friend were going to be the band he so desperately needed to make that happen. Coming from a life that could only be described as worse than “living on a shoestring and a prayer,” Mackey’s entire life was about survival.
The band was the one place someone else’s opinion mattered, and the one thing he could put in his pocket during the day with the shit-for-brains kids who couldn’t just read the fucking books and stay out of his face…
Music was his life, his soul, and it was also the thing that tied him to Grant. When his brother Kell’s best friend, Grant, gave Mackey his first kiss, he knew that he was feeling love for the very first time. Unfortunately, Grant and Mackey both feared not only their parent’s reactions, but also the loss of Kell and his friendship as well. More than slightly homophobic, Kell made it painfully clear how much he despised “fags” and so Grant and Mackey hid their five-year-long affair from everyone. Grant would become the anchor and lifeline that held Mackey in place. He would be Mackey’s one good thing, his one shining light in an otherwise harsh and soul-crushing life.
Years later, when their lives turned out very differently, Mackey would remember that moment, the freedom at his face and the safety at his back, and it would be the diamond in his mind, the one clear moment that taught him what love was all about. Even if the diamond was flawed, it was the first diamond he’d ever grasped so tight it left edges imprinted on his palm, and he would clutch it to his chest until his heart bled, sure nobody but Grant Adams, his brother’s best friend and the kid he’d grown up with, could give him that feeling.
When Grant’s “girlfriend,” Samantha, informed him he was pregnant, Grant said goodbye to the band, leaving not just a lead guitar slot empty but, more importantly, gutting the fragile, overworked, Mackey. From that point on, the band of brothers would fall headfirst into the pit that was instant fame and with it the world of sex, drugs, and instant gratification. Continually worried he might fail all those who depended on him and aching for the one man who could keep him from plummeting into darkness, Mackey began a slow burning suicide run at fame. Realizing the band was on the edge of meltdown, a new manager was hired and Travis Ford stepped into Mackey’s life. He would bring with him an unflinching set of rules for the boys to live by and be the one thing Mackey craved most—truth.
Mackey grunted and leaned into him. “Why’s the shit gotta be so awful, Trav?” It was a child’s question, one that adults could never answer. “So we know the good stuff when we see it.” Mickey nodded, and they stayed there, just stayed there and breathed…
The poor attempt above at summarizing over 500 pages of text and a story that left me, quite frankly, a bit breathless should not deter you from reading what I am sure will be one of the top pieces of fiction in the year 2014. Why is this novel so remarkable? I believe the real strength of this story lay not in the actual plot but in the characters that bring it to life. Fully actualized, fleshed out, and real to the point of being heavily flawed and raw to the bone, author Amy Lane creates people that tear at our collective hearts and occupy our every thought as we read about their lives. The fears and emotional ties that hold this achingly abused group of brothers together is some of the most powerfully written drama I have ever read. The sweet moments of peace and humor that are sprinkled throughout the unflinching realism of their lives is a welcome relief that carries us through the next dark hallway that Mackey and his brothers must travel. The amazing endurance and strength of Travis Ford as he sometimes parents, befriends, and loves this family is staggering in its honesty and depth. But, above all else, the music…the pain and joy and sheer “screw it all” attitude that pours forth from the oft-tortured mind of the amazing Mackey Sanders is just breathtaking to behold. The love he has for Travis Ford is just icing on the cake.
My Mom told me the trick to staying in love was falling in love every day. Like you do with music. You listen for good music every day.
Beneath The Stain by Amy Lane is a journey of pain and love that is lost, found and rediscovered anew. It is the transformation of a group of boys into men whom one would be proud to call friends. It is truly storytelling at its best and I highly recommend this novel to you.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.