Monday, October 23, 2017

Book Review: 'Soulbound' by Rick Bettencourt

Rick Bettencourt steps into an enlarging spotlight of fellow LGBT writers - a circle stage front that includes such names as David Sedaris, Edmund White, Felice Picano, Robert Rodi, Michael Cunningham, David Leavitt, Alan Hollinghurst, Colm Tóibín, et al - and comes on very strong with this new book TIM ON BRADWAY: SEASON ONE. Though there is much talk about this master of the social media and though he has enjoyed success with his earlier works PAINTING WITH WINE and the collection of stories in NOT SURE BOYS, this novel - the culmination of a series of short episodes he published as teasers - places him solidly in the company of the specially gifted young writers of gay fiction. All true and building - he now is responsible for publishing some very promising fellow writers. Rick's gift for significant writing continues to swell.

Rick opens this rather short book with the main character's written thoughts that sum up the period of the story well: ‘Smoke, thoughts of pills chased with a fifth of Jack Daniels, and Donna Summer crooning “Last Dance” through his earbuds remained vestiges of Paul’s final acts. Muzzy images of his children, a lover he barely knew, and a wife flitted through his mind as he left behind his body. Blackness. Heat. The song’s melody— shifting from its slow start into up-tempo— faded from earshot. Silence. Light. Murky thoughts, as gooey as the slop he felt part of— like an amoeba in a petri dish— confused Paul and waned for an eternity, until, finally, a semblance of recognition dawned. A clip-clop of hooves galumphing the ground. Huh? What am I… I’m riding a… a horse? “My, God, it’s happening.” Paul smiled. Feeling right again, he patted the stallion’s neck, grateful for his long journey’s end. Above the hot and dusty land, clouds of soot billowed from the road. The smoky, gray surrounding didn’t seem like the beautiful afterlife he’d pictured. “Hold on. Maybe this isn’t it after all.” However, he held out hope as years of religious study lead him to believe. The longer he and his equine companion trudged, the further the trip to Paradise seemed— an excursion lasting a lifetime. “How much longer?” Paul murmured. The horse neighed and Paul waved ash from the air. Is the fire out? His mind tripped back to his corporal life.’

So Rick takes us into the paranormal sphere again, this time with spiritual questions, disapproval by family and friend for being gay, and ties it all up in a fine little short story: ‘When Paul Milgrone, a religious man, a down-on-his-luck married man who has lived a life suppressing his homosexuality, dies he is greeted at the Pearly Gates by someone unexpected. According to Paul, his first love— John Rington a gay man who died from complications due to HIV/AIDS —shouldn’t be allowed in Heaven. There it is - two men who never got to actualize their affection for one another until the afterlife. But Love, how do you live without it?’’

Food for contemplation in a short story that could easily be a full novel if the numerous thoughts were expanded. Rick hits the mark again. Grady Harp, September 16

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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