It’s 1994 and homosexuality is still quite the stigma. Ryde is lucky that his parents seem to be okay with his desperate confession: He loves his best friend Alistair. At age 17, Ryde is convinced that he and Alistair are destined to become lifelong lovers.
Alistair’s a strange sort, an ephemeral beauty, whose devout Catholic parents are suspicious of Ryde’s interest in their son. Alistair’s attracted to Ryde, but he’s an innocent. His protective parents have never allowed him to date anyone, and his only social life consists of church outings, choir, and Ryde. He suffers migraines and often confides in Ryde that he sees vision of angels when in a migraine stupor. Alistair has recently told Ryde that he’s going into the seminary, which Ryde cannot tolerate. He wants Alistair for himself, not for God. His family plans a camping trip to Craving’s Creek, and Alistair is allowed to come along.
The isolation of the campsite works in Ryde’s favor when he’s steadily increasing his physicality with Alistair, but it also makes possible a horrific crime. I don’t want to reveal too much, but there is a kidnapping and assaults of the physical and sexual kind. While Ryde heals from his injuries, Alistair’s family sells their house and disappears.
Fast forward 14 years. In 2008, Ryde is an emotional mess and a bona fide alcoholic. He still has night terrors over his attack at Craving’s Creek, and he has never recovered from losing Alistair. His nearest and dearest friend reveals that her cousin’s wedding is to be officiated by a Father Alistair Genet, and Ryde is immediately drawn to the parish to meet his long-lost love. It’s the scene of his nightmares, spilling 14 years of loss in a drunken confessional rant, and it rattles Alistair to his core.
Then it is Alistair who seeks Ryde out. And, while Ryde senses there is something off about his Alistair, he takes all that he can get from him—all that he’d been denied when their lives were ripped apart all those years ago. And this is crushing, particularly when Alistair runs like a scared gazelle the second they finish.
Throughout his pursuit, Ryde must befriend Alistair’s senior priest and spiritual advisor, both of whom detect severe emotional issues that neither will attribute to their rightful cause: mental illness. Alistair’s recovery from his attack didn’t include actual counseling, and his worldview is fractured. I really appreciated the tenderness with which Ryde handled Alistair. It is clear that Alistair’s illness is not managed, and Ryde cleans himself up, sobers up, in order to help keep Alistair healthy.
There was a lot of separation between the secular and the spiritual here, which was interesting. Ryde is clearly the secular, the atheist who feels that God’s lamb, Alistair, never should have been attacked. Dealing with Alistair’s many emotional issues is a huge burden on top of his fragile grip on sobriety. I appreciated how real that struggle felt on the page. Without a doubt, I admired Ryde’s unshakable faith in his love for Alistair, and Alistair’s unshakeable faith in God. These two have suffered greatly, and yet they have hope. And more fear, because Alistair’s certain his inability to process his attack is related to a complete memory wash of the incident; returning to Craving’s Creek will jar him enough to slide the missing pieces of his memory into a place where they can be accessed and expunged. To me, it felt a little like cutting open an old festering wound to let the vileness bleed clean, and I was chilled watching it all unfold.
This is an excellent read, with characters to root for on page one. The story is well-written with a plot that sucked me in. Ryde tells the story in its entirety, and his pain is palpable. His yearning for Alistair is heart-wrenching. Alistair’s sheltered life is a tragedy in the making, and Ryde’s impetuous love never falters. The book is split in nearly half—the teenaged BEFORE and the adult AFTER, which I was not expecting. Also, I was expecting a torrid, perhaps even lurid, affair between a sexy journalist and a confused priest. Completely wrong on that account! This is emotional read, and the sexiness is always a fade-to-black scenario. The centerpiece of the story is the mental well-being of Ryde and Alistair, how they coped with their young love, their attack, and finding each other again after such a devastating tragedy. The reality of this journey is not terribly romantic, in truth, but the hope remains that they can heal each other’s wounds. Thankfully, they find love before they return to Craving’s Creek, and it’s far stronger when they depart it.