Gemini’s Blood by Michael Burns is what I’d call a tough, gutsy book right out of the hardscrabble post-Second World War mill towns of New England in which much of it is set. Jack Scanlon, the main character, looks back on his life. It is a reminiscence filled with dysfunctional family, poverty, alcohol, failed relationships, adolescent friendships, and a tour in the navy. There are girls: powerfully written interactions with girls and embarrassments. These are not characters who engage in introspection or in rationalization. They live in the moment, they experience and go on, and they survive:
“… Now watch what I do with my tongue.” And her lips were on his again, and her moist tongue darted into his mouth, and flicked his own tongue. He thought the top of his head might explode. She moved away from him. He opened his eyes to find her smiling at him, and he saw the smile of an older sister, not a girlfriend. “Is that the way you remember French kissing?” He nodded his head, “If you learn to use your tongue like that, the girls will be impressed. You should practice it on your girlfriends,” she said, teasing again.
This is a no nonsense look at life, a look at its hardness and struggles. Perhaps more than anything it is a no-holds-barred look at the storm we call adolescence. The reader suffers with Jack as he struggles toward manhood.
Jack brought his pint of J.W. Dant cautiously to his lips, catching the strong odor in his nostrils, which gave his stomach an involuntary turn. He pretended to drink with the others, but he kept his lips sealed shut. He licked those lips and tasted the harsh sour mash on the tip of his tongue. Once more his stomach lurched. He could only hope that sun went down soon, and that Harpo wouldn’t hold them to their chug-a-lug demerits. Burns’ writing is as hard-nosed as the story he tells. He doesn’t allow the reader to look away or retreat into an everything-went-happily-ever-after mentality. Perhaps it is indicative of the writer’s toughness that Jack is looking back on his life not from a position of success and happiness but from a lonely chair in an outpatient surgery ward. He isn’t even in a room or a comfortable bed. Rather he finds himself in an uncomfortable recliner stuck in the hallway. A busy nurse occasionally stops by to ask if he wants an out-of-date magazine. Otherwise, he is alone with his thoughts and memories.
What is being done to Jack Scanlon? He is slowly being transfused – three pints in all. It is a long process, one that allows just enough discomfort to make the reader squirm and one which tells both the reader and Scanlon that the prognosis is bleak. But then, the prognosis for his life has always been bleak. In a manner of speaking, Jack lost his virginity that night in a Tijuana strip joint and cathouse. That is, he believed that he had until he overheard talk in the supply office about the wily Tijuana B-girls:
“They can spot a cherry boy the minute he steps through the door… (H)e’s too hot to trot to figure out that when the senorita’s on her back he’s sticking his dick in her fist not her twat.”
In that brief vignette we see the essence of Jack Scanlon’s life and the power of this strong but very dark novel. “Gemini’s Blood” is neither for the faint of heart nor for those looking for an answer to life. It is for those of us who celebrate survival and the determination to simply exist. It is for those who can accept the bittersweet taste of blood so strong on the page that we can also taste it on our lips and feel it drop by drip as it enters Jack Scanlon’s vein.
Kenneth Weene, PhD is a psychologist and social scientist. Over the years he has published a number of professional papers. Ken is also a poet and fiction writer. His poetry has appeared in numerous publications – most recently featured in Sol and publication in Spirits, and Vox Poetica. An anthology of Ken’s writings, Songs for my Father, was published by Inkwell Productions in 2002. His short stories have appeared in many places, including Legendary, Sex and Murder Magazine, The New Flesh Magazine, and The Santa Fe Literary Review. He is also a regular contributor to Basil and Spice. In 2009 Ken’s novel, Widow’s Walk, was published and in 2010 a second novel, Memoirs From the Asylum, both by All Things That Matter Press. To learn more about Ken’s writing visit: http://www.authorkenweene.com