Jay Bell's new book Straight Boy is not everyone's favourite, I'm sure. The happy-ever-after walking-into-the-sunset ending is not there - thank goodness; something much better takes its place. I have for some time now admired the ability of gay authors to have the deepest insight into the complexities of finding a way to relate to another person, let alone managing the impossible task of finding a life partner. I don't know why gay literature is such a rich source of understanding about relationships. Almost more significant is the value placed on kindness. My guess is that 'coming out' may have something to do with it. Whereas heteronormative people really don't have to think too much about their own or other people's feelings, coming out presents a unique challenge. It demands very special qualities if it is to be negotiated well - qualities admired by the Native American 'Two Spirit' recognition. In the first place, there is the stage of coming out to oneself - acknowledging a realisation that one is different in a major and highly significant way, discovering something about oneself that is central to who one is, and something which still, in the 21st century, may cause hostility, rejection or even physical danger from the most unexpected directions. You have to be very sure you are truly gay before you take that risk, and with something as complex and varied as sexual orientation, deciding where one is on that wide spectrum is hard for all except the few who occupy the extreme end. That requires a great deal of careful introspection, and by its nature cannot easily be discussed with others. Then there is the need to come out to other people. To be who one truly is to other people can be hard, and living a lie is a very powerful attraction, even though it's a choice that can take a terrible toll on those who choose that route through life. More difficult still is the dilemma that presents itself when falling for someone who does not fall for you. It is really painful for the hetero, but nothing compared with the agony of the gay individual, where it is so much more complicated. Jay Bell explores this area in Straight Boy, taking on as well the abusive relationship which seems so clear and simple to deal with to those on the outside, but is in fact often fraught with difficulties for those caught in its entanglements. The courage needed to expose the abuse is a parallel to the courage needed to reveal a gay attraction. I highly recommend Chapters 11, 12 & 13 for the deep insight they contain into the uncertainties of relationship, and I compliment Jay for his masterly writing in that section of the book. There are other sections that I shall be wanting to keep in my mind as rich examples of understanding human nature, and the necessity of holding on to one's mind and to one's capacity for kindness in the face of challenges from other people. I have a slightly uncomfortable feeling that, following the tense plot resolution at the end of the book, the resolution of the relationships that form the stuff of the plot is rather rushed, and largely consigned to the inevitable Epilogue (which in itself is beautifully managed, but why does it have to be there at all?). The excitement of the final drama does seem rather to have eclipsed the central theme. There is a distinct possibility that after all the ending is happy, which perhaps could have been explored in more detail. I can't help wondering if publisher's deadlines might have got in the way. This remains an important book, and possibly the best yet from this author.
Always count on Jay Bell to deliver great quality novels, with memorable characters and exciting plots. He is one of the best gay romance writers on the market. Highly recommended. I can't wait for the next one!