This review has me a bit flummoxed. I felt this novel, A Slow Process of Understanding by Faith Ashlin, had some very important things to say and there were some really intense and satisfying moments throughout. However, overall I felt the length and repetitive nature of some dialogue really bogged down the pacing and lessened the impact the author was trying to make.
Jimmy lives in a slave state. It was never made clear exactly how one is chosen to be a slave but it is clear that, for Jimmy, his spouting off homophobic slurs at the son of an important official of the state while at a studio party was the reason for him being both jailed and bonded to a slave. In other words, Jimmy, who is gay but closeted, is now the owner of another man and will be responsible for him the rest of their lives. Jimmy is a rather dense, spoiled actor whose mother tends to rule his life and who rarely thinks before he speaks. His slave, on the other hand, is far more mysterious and very cautious when responding to Jimmy.
Nate, from all appearances, is a guy who simply goes with the flow. He keeps his head down, does as he is told, and rarely shows any emotion. So, what a surprise when halfway through this novel it is revealed exactly who Nate is and why he seemed to be so well known and connected while he and Jimmy had been in prison. From this point forward in the story, there is a marked role reversal between our two main characters, even though they remain as owner and slave on paper.
Before I outline the pros and cons to this story, it is important to note that there is both dubious consent and a rather brutal rape scene on page. But beyond that, the idea of rape and consent is discussed often in the second half of the novel and, while not done cavalierly, it is a repetitive theme and, at times, I was confused as to why it was continually brought up again and again. However, the author makes some very important and salient points about slavery and how it takes away all consent to owning your body and choosing with whom and when you will allow sex.
I believe this novel really attempted to tell us that slavery in any form and with either a good and caring “owner” or a brutal and evil one really had no distinction. The fact was that even those slaves treated kindly were stripped of their basic human rights and had become chattel. The first time this was spoken of in the story, and addressed by Nate, it was done very articulately. But Jimmy was a very dull boy and seemed to need to revisit this idea over and over while Nate decided if he could forgive him. After the third or fourth discussion between the two men, I was hard pressed to see any new territory uncovered by the author. It was merely another scene where Jimmy was remorseful and understood more completely how horrible he was for being an owner and Nate relived his horror as a slave again.
As far as the love that eventually grows between these two men, it is sweet and hard earned. But Jimmy does grow and Nate does soften and theirs is an “eyes wide open” type of relationship with no sugar coating about their past. What I had the most difficult time understanding was how Jimmy could be found so horribly at fault when he was forced by the state to be an owner, just as Nate was forced to be a slave. I am not sure how the dubious consent was valid due to the fact that in order to leave prison, Jimmy was made to dominate his slave sexually and put on a good show for the judges. Then, after they left, Nate lived a full out lie in order to get completely healed from an injury and continued the charade for months, while Jimmy assumed Nate was content. For me, it was just a bit too contrived that Nate would hate Jimmy so much and accuse him of rape while he used subterfuge to get what he needed. In a sense, I felt they both “raped” the other and neither was a very stellar person.
A Slow Process Of Understanding had much to say and did so intelligently and boldly. There were many important moments through the course of this story. However, I felt the overall novel was a bit bloated with repetitive themes and scenes where I felt we were belaboring ideas that had already been nicely laid out and executed capably. All in all, the novel felt sluggish and eventually critical beliefs were watered down due to them being discussed too much with no variety of delivery.