on 23 October 2006
Beautiful, charming, honest. There is no need for over-analysis of this captivating novel. The message is clear, earnest, and powerful in its simplicity. The narrator, Rick, a former gay porn star and now sometime film extra/writer, lives across the street from a Jewish boys' school. The novel explores Rick's evolving relationship with boys who have been taught that he should be dead because of his nature. Some of the boys are appalled by his atheism, his appreciation of the subjectivity of morality, and his assertive pleasure in his sexuality. Others are warned to stay away from him by their older peers but are drawn to him by his honesty, openness and genuine interest in them. Of course some of this interest is sexual, but that aspect is very incidental. Rick's interest is that of someone determined to solve an obscure puzzle: what makes someone hate another for being what nature made him, without caring what he is like as a person?
The tone of the novel is perfectly pitched; bewilderment, superb humour and occasional eroticism, merge with, and balance out, the underlying poignancy. Rick happily provokes the boys into challenging themselves and their beliefs by dressing like one of them; wearing the yarmulke, tzitzis, black clothes. He is honest with them about his sexuality and philosophy and reads their religious texts as a way of communicating with them. He does not shrink from expressing thoughts that they consider outrageous or blasphemous. Some of the boys grow carefully tolerant of him, others continue to taunt and threaten him; a few grow fond of him. But none of them can ignore him completely. Whatever their views as they proceed into manhood, the 'Famous Rick' will remain part of their consciousness. And that's the most significant quality of this work: Rick is not preaching, or trying to change the world, he is just passionate about trying to understand those humans who are opposed to his existence a priori. It is the simple earnestness of a child in the playground asking another child to be friends. Rick is, above all, dignified. He accepts that some of the boys will not be strong enough to overcome, and challenge, their indoctrination; he accepts his various victories and defeats, but never fails to give up trying to communicate, one human to another.
It is sad to think that Rick Sandford died before this novel was published; but at least those of us who did not have the fortune to know him can be grateful that he left us with this proud and courageous legacy. Very highly recommended.