MLR Press / March 2009
Reviewed by: T.E. Lyons
This suspense novel, which dips modestly into the supernatural, merits appreciation for its well-executed dance between sensitivity and intensity.
This is a story of gay bashing. Specifically, the aftermath of a bashing on a cold night in Chicago, recounted in the prologue. By the time the novel proper has begun, the assailants are scattered and the victims picked up by ambulance. Then 20 short chapters follow the main participants — plus one person who enters the scene only later. He may be the next victim, or he may be something else entirely in this close-knit narrative. The point of view shifts around, including two of the bashers — but most often it belongs with Donald, who lost his lover and partner.
Donald awakens in the hospital and begins both recovery and grieving. Though he finds support from some reliable sources, sympathy and acceptance aren’t universal, and the man sets up emotional walls of self-defense. Within these walls, he sees – then begins to feel – a presence. A familiar one. The one he’d most like to have with him. But is it just a product of his fractured mind?
Reed is an established brand — perhaps the most reliable contemporary author for thrillers that cross over between the gay fiction market and speculative fiction. In this tale, he maintains a degree of empathy across the viewpoints. Yet it’s also very clear that the author wants the reader to gain a deep understanding of what Donald is going through. The careful, watchful following of Donald’s progress (and sometimes lack thereof) drags the read by just a hair…
…but then, watch out! As he tries to figure out steps to rebuild his life and confidence, Donald returns to the leather scene at Chicago’s gay bars. Over a single chapter, the narrative stirs up an erotic storm (with occasional squalls following through the rest of the book). The sex scenes are not going to be to every reader’s tastes — even those who are okay with the explicit content might be put off by the whiplash-quick shift in tone. But it isn’t a shift in character: this is part of Donald’s road back, and part of what bashers want to take away. Reed does a great job of maintaining authorial voice in a slalom of heat and bittersweetness as Donald returns to where he first met his lost love.
Bashed has a few coincidences that pile up, but those distractions aren’t significantly detrimental because of the depth of characters throughout. Donald’s sister, a police sketch artist, the doorman at the bar and many others have individuality but aren’t pumped up with affect or artifice. The fears and needs of the bashers aren’t uniform or preordained. The suspense grows realistically as Donald re-enters the world with its inherent dangers.
If the unearthly element had retained its initial possibilities, the impact of this brief novel might have held on to an even wider audience. But what Reed delivered is still quite substantial.
Purchase Bashed: A Love Story by Rick R. Reed.