What would you do if you could “cure” your child of being gay? What if a simple shot could give you and your family a happy, heterosexual life? Would you take it? Heavily backed by the Mormon church and the Vatican, this offer was discretely given to thousands of men and women around the world. Princes, politicians, and the Pope endorsed it and encouraged it, and thousands took it for themselves, or gave it to their children. But the gene therapy wasn’t fully tested and any side effects were unknown. Until now.
Across the world, suicides are spreading, especially among young men, as those affected by the shot wake up one morning to see their skin turn a decided shade of pink. A pink which singles them out as gay. Every day, more men are ending their lives, and it’s up to a small, dedicated group of men and women to try to find a cure.
Dirty Pink is more a fantasy version of Outbreak or a what if thought exercise than it is a romance story. While there are gay men (and a small representation of lesbians), many of whom are in same sex relationships, this book isn’t about romance. It’s not even really about sex. It’s about the idea that, in this world, there is a chance that a person’s sexuality is something that can be changed. The shots, however, aren’t really a ‘cure’ since none of the people who took it actually became heterosexual. All that happens is that their skin turns a bright, noticeable shade of pink.
For Takeshi Yomada, a middle-aged man in Japan, we never know when or why he takes the shot. He grew up a frail, sensitive child who knew he was attracted to men, but never really acted on it. As he got older, he realized that his career was stalled without the respectability of a wife and family, and so he married. There is love between him and his wife, but it’s the love and respect of friends and partners.
For Amelio Sanchez, he took the shot when he realized he was gay. He did it to protect his marriage and his children, so that he could continue to be “normal,” to be a good husband and a good father, as well as a good Mormon. When his skin starts to turn pink, he accepts that it’s a sign and makes plans to divorce his wife rather than continue to live a lie, refusing to cause more pain to either of them.
For Ryan, a young man not yet graduated from high school, he never knew what was happening to him or why his skin was turning pink. Not at first. His father, Ted, knew his son was gay since early childhood and gave him the shots to fix him without ever telling his son. When Ryan found out, looking through his father’s work files what had been done to him, he took his own life.
This story poses an interesting question, but the idea is better than the execution. For all the suicides in this book, the survivors — father, wife, friend — seem relatively … well, unmoved. There’s a token of shock, but Ted, who just pulled his dead son out of the pool (and called a friend rather than the police), is far more concerned with hiding his work than grieving for his son. A wife who has, minutes before, walked in to her home where her husband lies dead, takes the time to sit down and tell some friends — over the course of seven pages — a long, detailed story about her husband’s early childhood, his first love, first kiss, as well as relating his sexual experience with another man (which is just … ). It’s just such a strangely put together book. No character ever really feels present, and none of them really seem to care about what’s happening or the people it’s happening to.
The small vignettes where we meet some of the men who are still living are almost clinical, talking about them as if they were a case study — which might have worked better if the rest of the book followed the same tone. Instead, it’s all very lopsided. We’re introduced to a handful of scientists in the beginning, intelligent, educated women from various organizations trying to track down the course of the suicides, but we never really come back to them except for one scene where Dr. Mishi Takita of the WHO has dinner with and then sleeps with Dr. Stefano Puglia, who helped developed the gay shot and is responsible for the rash of suicides she’s been tracking. The scene where the two of them meet is discordant. It’s primarily from Stefano’s point of view, who has has quite an opinion of himself, with his — in his own words — Italian sensuality, a slim body, bedroom eyes, and perfect male-model face. The soul purpose of the meeting seems to be so Stefano can sleep with (the married) Mishi Takita (though to excuse her infidelity, she and her husband don’t really love each other anymore). Also, for no reason I can see, Stefano has clairvoyance for two scenes in the beginning where he is given visions of the suicides before/as they happen. But it’s never brought up again and I can’t tell what purpose it ever had, since I know the suicides are happening; I just read about them in the chapter before.
The characters have only a shadow of archetype in place of personality. The message, which is a good one as far as messages go, is delivered with the subtlety of a bullhorn. The writing is clunky in parts, laden with too much description and too many adverbs here, and spare and terse, there. However, the pacing is fairly good with only a few places where it catches and drags (like the strange “let me tell you about the time my husband had sex with another man while we wait for his body to be removed”), and the Outbreak-like set up for their plague is well-thought out. Just, in my opinion, not all that well put together. Personally, I didn’t enjoy reading this book and I don’t find much in it to recommend it to others. I feel like the heart is there, but I would suggest waiting another book or two before coming back to read this author again.
Note: This story has a trigger warning for forced, public outing