A Question of Manhood, Robin Reardon, Kensington Publishing
A touching account of coming of age in rural America during the Vietnam war.
A fact worth noting is this book is not about being a gay teenager. The main character, Paul, is straight and his own sexuality, it’s never questioned. This is his journey toward tolerance of others’ homosexuality.
Paul faces a difficult relationship with his parents, increased by the guilty loving hating one with his dead brother, Christ. And the secret he took to his grave. A secret he confessed to Paul shortly before dying. Paul struggles with his memories, and the fact that being gay, makes Christ in Paul’s view, not so perfect after all. Sadly, he cannot tell his parents, who worship Christ’s memory. Ignoring how Paul languishes in the shadow of a brother who he will never surpass.
Paul’s brief encounter with a prostitute gets him in trouble with the law, his father confines him at home, only allowing him to work at the family’s pet supply store during the summer. Paul’s duties include training JJ, the new employee, who seems flawless and who is also gay. Paul is overjealous of JJ’s qualities, and the admiration his own father has for him. Eventually, an unexpected friendship joins Paul and JJ, who will teach Paul, among other things, that manhood and sexual preferences are two completely different issues.
The story intimate narrative reads as a biography, and there are moments when Paul comes across as selfish and biased. Other times, he is vulnerable and grief-stricken, inspiring sympathy. The author brilliantly uses the training of aggressive dogs as a vehicle for JJ to show his wisdom and sensibility, while Paul learns about confidence, patience, respect and friendship.
The moment of truth in the book, when Paul has to stand up and protect JJ, is heartbreaking. Paul finally understands Chris’ life choices. Being written in first person, we never get a chance to know how JJ, the gay character in the book, really feels. Yes, there are a couple of glances, but only through Paul’s perspective. I would have liked to have JJ’s inner thoughts too. Maybe we will, I have the feeling he might get a book by the way this one ends.