What Love Mean to You People – NancyKay Shapiro

I started to read NancyKay Shapiro’s debut novel a couple years ago, got about 40 pages in and put it aside. I’m not really sure why I stopped, I just wasn’t groovin’ to the story. And I desperately wanted to like it. See, NancyKay Shapiro was something of a Big Fandom Name back in my days in a certain fandom (which shall not be named so I don’t out her). She wrote a different pairing than I did and I didn’t always agree with her characterization, but there was no question that she could turn a phrase.

In a way, What Love Means to You People is sort of like reading her fanfiction. The writing is smart and often quite beautiful, but I had serious problems with the characterizations of her three main characters: Jim, a widowed gay man in his early 40s; Seth, Jim’s new beautiful, troubled, much younger lover and Cassie, Seth’s sister who shows up and causes all sorts of trouble for the men.

Jim is a rich advertising guy. He’s been single ever since the love of his life, Zak, died. One day, he meets Seth McKenna:

Rippled nose with a slender ring in one nostril. Cheekbones and a clean jaw. Shorty bleached hair in trailing bangs, pointy sideburns. Silver rings climbing one earlobe, small, smaller, smallest. An appealing athletic body, too, in white chinos and a tank shirt. Quite nice, despite the trivializing modifications.

Jim is smitten. They have dinner. Seth tells a lie. Or two. Seth, it seems, has a past from which he has tried desperately to distance himself. It looks like none of it will matter, until his younger sister, Cassie, shows up with her small-minded attitudes about gay men and the key that opens the door to Seth’s past.

There are lots of plot twists, relationships fractured and pieced back together. Lots of graphic gay sex, too, if that’s your thing. I think Shapiro was aiming for a story that examines families, and how sometimes the ones we choose are better than the ones biology gives us but, ultimately, for me, What Love Means to You People wasn’t really much more than a well-written soap opera, complete with stock characters and a neatly tied bow of an ending.

30 Day Book Meme – Day 29

A book everyone hated but you liked

Billy Dead.

Lisa Reardon’s novel was chosen by several top ten book lists and Alice Munro called it a “brave, heartwrenching debut.”

People lose people. I don’t know why we’re all so damn careless. Folks lose their kids, men lose their women, even friends get lost if you don’t keep your eye out. I look through the windshield at the houses going by. For every person sitting in them houses, watching TV or eating a ham sandwich, there’s someone somewhere wondering where and why they lost them. All those lost people, carrying on their everyday business like the air’s not full of the sound of hearts breaking and bleeding.

Reardon’s novel tells the  story of siblings Billy, Ray and Jean. They’ve had nothing close to an idyllic childhood and now, as adults, they are estranged. I chose this book as my book club choice several years ago and I read it with a knot in my stomach. The subject matter is not easy and I knew that no one in my group would like it. And I was right.

But Billy Dead is a beautiful book about what it means to be family, love and redemption, forgiveness. It is also a love story, although the lovers might cause some discomfort for some (most) readers.

Lisa Reardon herself has had a troubled life. She was recently arrested for shooting (but not killing) her father. After reading that I wondered whether or not the subject matter of her books (dysfunctional families, violence) weren’t perhaps subjects with which she was intimately familiar.

She’s an amazing writer and Billy Dead is a fantastic book.