Craig and Nate are the epitome of opposites. Craig shares a run-down trailer with his drug-addicted mother. He’s all of fifteen years old, yet carrying the responsibility of maintaining their meager household. Nate lives in relative luxury with his mostly indifferent parents. He has access to all the things money can buy, but all he wants is to be seen and accepted. The two boys are neighbors, but it is their mutual curiosity about the world that cleaves them together. Through friendship, they build trust. For Nate, something deeper than friendship starts to grow and he thinks giving Craig a kiss is the perfect opportunity to transition from friends to something more. But Craig gets spooked and events beyond either boys’ control lead to Craig being put into foster care and Nate getting shipped off to a religious camp.
Craig’s foster family is loving and giving. He grows up like the stereotypical all-American guy. He even marries his college sweetheart; lands a lucrative, high-power job; and fathers a child. By contrast, Nate gets fed up with his involuntary stint at camp and runs away. Hitchhiking, he discovers that his good looks can provide the freedom and autonomy his parents wouldn’t give him. Eventually, he even pulls himself into a place of financial security and falls in love with an amazing man. But just like when they were teenagers, good things can’t last for the men. Craig discovers his long-standing inability to connect emotionally with his wife is because he’s actually attracted to men. Things blow up when his wife discovers that Craig has been having a sustained affair with Danny, a popular author. Meanwhile, Nate finds out that his partner, Paul, is dying of complications with AIDS. Not only that, but Paul’s estranged family is determined (and legally entitled) to take Paul away. The tragedies in these two men’s lives eventually bring them back together after thirty years apart for a reunion that is as bittersweet as it is fleeting.
The View from Olympus Mons is mostly historical (circa 1980s), sometimes contemporary (2020s) story from author Barry Creyton. First, let me say that I very much enjoyed the book, even though I personally intensely disliked a main character. Allow me to explain.
The book opens with a present-day vignette of Craig visiting his ex-wife at their former home to share a meal with her and their daughter. It definitely frames Craig as the main character, at least at first. It is during this scene that Craig receives a seemingly innocuous letter from an unknown lawyer. That letter contains information that drives the rest of the story: information about Nate. The letter also set up a bit of a quandary for me as a reader. Present day Craig absolutely has a miserable ex-wife and an amazing boyfriend, but the letter has him beating the light-fantastic out of town to go see Nate. As in, Craig can’t sleep the night he gets the letter and is on the first flight to Nate the next morning. Here’s how the scene goes down between Craig and Danny:
Danny took a deep breath, “You want me to come with you?”
Craig took the overnight bag and moved past Danny to the hall where he climbed into his bomber. “You’ve got work.”
“If this is important to you.” Craig turned to face him. “I don’t want you to come with me,” he said evenly.
“Do you want me to be here when you get back?” The moment he said it, Danny wanted to take it back. He bit his bottom lip.
Craig looked at him for a moment, then grabbed his keys, and opened the front door.
“Don’t walk away from me, Craig. Please. Talk to me.”
Craig closed the front door behind him.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but Craig kind of dropped Danny like a box of rocks for a childhood friend (one whom, as far as Craig knew prior to receiving the letter, grew up perfectly middle-class average). As the book flips between present day (only occasional vignettes) and the past (standard chapter-length narratives), this feeling of Craig absolutely ghosting his kind, supportive, faithful boyfriend of two years really intensified for me. The tension is palpable when Craig ignores Danny whenever he tries to text or call Craig. As asshole-ish as this is, it’s not the only problematic aspect of Craig’s character. The big one for me was his reaction to the news his then-girlfriend-soon-to-be-wife was pregnant. She explains that she is pregnant, but she still has a choice about actually having the baby. Upon hearing this, Craig “fixed her with an unblinking glare and grabbed her wrist” and told her she wasn’t “the only one who gets to choose.” This from the man who, at every point before and after this exchange, shows virtually zero emotional investment in this relationship. So, yes. Craig is, in my eyes, deeply flawed. Rather than dampen my enjoyment of the book, however, it served to remind me that problematic characters are still just characters and not necessarily a reflection of the author’s beliefs.
One major theme of the story is that of opposites. It starts with Craig being poor and Nate being rich, but those trajectories flip dramatically after they get separated as teenagers. With the generous love and support of his foster family, Craig studies his way into a lucrative career. On the surface, he’s got it all: wealth, hot wife, cute kid. But he’s utterly miserable to the point his only emotional connection is with his work or, later, his child. Meanwhile, Nate literally trades sex for escape from homophobia. After surviving on the kindness of (mostly) strangers, he finds true love and happiness with Paul. This love even seems to eclipse the intense crush Nate had harbored for Craig. Between the switch in narration (between Nate’s and Craig’s perspectives) and time (past versus present), Creyton paints a vivid and compelling set of circumstances for the drama of Nate’s and Craig’s friendship to come full circle.
All in all, I think this is a wonderful read for people who want a story that features compelling, if not always likable or noble, characters. There is incredible emotional drama. Every time the narration slipped back into the present day, when Craig is by Nate’s side, I was on tenterhooks wanting to know what would happen with Danny. And of course, the individual stories of Craig and Nate going from teenagers to middle-aged men were a portrait in how differently these two men learned what love is (Craig) and how to love (Nate). I would recommend this book to anyone who likes stories featuring multi-faceted, complex characters and craves a story that explores what it would be like if you really did drop everything to reconnect with someone before it’s too late.