Although 50ish construction worker Gary may have a home where he gathers for safety, in his battered and decrepit trailer on the outskirts of Petulia, Mississippi, his heart is somewhere else. His emotionally fraught wife Gina is having an affair, and his twenty-something daughter Lulu is about to pack up and leave for the bright-lights of New Orleans.
Still haunted by his experiences in the Vietnam War, Gary is devastated by what he sees around him, and after all these years, the destruction of the War is almost impossible to fathom. As Gary struggles to acknowledge that safety exists only by shutting out the world, he turns to drink and drugs, spending his days downing vodka and prescription medications, choking on the memories and the drugs and the drink, and the way his place keeps changing shapes.
But Gary's proclivity for willing self-destruction hides a far deeper problem: Deeply closeted, he has spent much of his youth fighting with his sexuality, haunted by the dreams of when was younger, mixing drinks, and dancing seductively behind a bar, love coming his way in the forms of beautiful ones. Gary knows that he can't go back; "he's too old to mix martinis for young boys and dance elegantly," so now he drinks alone at the kitchen table, "knowing that all the bottles have run out."
One night, while sitting in a corner booth at a local bar, Gary meets Zachary, a skinny, ghostly twenty-six year old who lights a fire within Gary's soul. With his crooked teeth and his obvious addiction to drugs, Gary spies a kindred spirit, a similarly troubled soul who has issues stemming from past abuse in his life.
The two eventually go home together, coiled in a type of shared intimacy. But Gary spends the next day waiting for the sun to end, full of regret that he's disappointed Gina again. Tired of Gary's drinking, Gina moves in with another man, and Lula eventually leaves, finding work as a bar-back in a pub on Bourbon Street. Obviously, Gary's envious and happy for Lula, for putting herself in the world in a way that he never had the guts to.
For Gary it's easier just to swallow the pills and hear the music no matter where it's coming from. Ironically though, it is during this time of great melancholy and confusion that Gary tries to embrace life once again. He asks Zachary to move in with him, even though the townsfolk begin to whisper and gossip. And when Gina finds out, she's disgusted, her small town bigotry and homophobia all too visible. Gary, however, sees it a second chance as the world he knows shifts beneath him, suddenly less predictable.
A Scarecrow's Bible is a deeply intuitive, exquisitely written love story between two conflicted men, taking place in the heart of turmoil and a society that refuses to accept them for who and what they are. The passion between Zachary and Gary is indeed intense, two lonely souls in need of comfort, tired of the constant rattrap of pain.
Gary and Zachary find tenderness in the midst of profound grief with hope surfacing unexpectedly. Growing old, Gary sees that he's missed his chance at a love like Zachary. In his vibrant youth maybe Gary could've been his lover, - but he is no longer youthful and perhaps not even sane. On the other hand, Zachary is the lost puppy, the vulnerable soul, and the disconsolate drifter who is desperate to be mothered and loved.
In tightly measured and gorgeously evocative prose, author Martin Hyatt traces Gary and Zachary's journey through the underbelly of working class Mississippi, skillfully exploring their angst and grief and ultimately their doomed love.
His novel is a testament to the fact that love can turn up in the unlikeliest of places, but it's also where menace can lurk just around the corner. These men are "prisoners of war" lost in a cage of "soft sighs and sharp images," struggling to find hope in the face of impending danger. Mike Leonard October 06.