Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Book Review: Able Was I by Drew Banks

Reviewed by Alan Chin
Published by Dot Dash Press

Wandering through Europe on a post-college vacation, Grey Tigrett spends an unforgettable day on Elba, an island off the coast of Italy. During his stay, he experiences his first gay sex as he and an older, married man fall into a passionate situation that neither can control. For Grey Tegrett, it was a life-altering experience that allowed him to fully embrace his gayness. And for the first time in his life, perhaps the only time, he felt at peace, even happy.

Fourteen years later, Grey Tigrett finds himself adrift in a mundane life, impotent to change what he has grown to loath. He lives in a wonderful loft in a fashionable part of Manhattan, has a socialite lover, great executive job. Everything should be swimming, but he sinks deeper into despair, retreating deeper into his imagination and away from his meaningless life.

On the eve of the new millennium, a series of tragic events leads Grey back to Elba in a desperate attempt to find himself, and hopefully rediscover the happiness he once found there. He searches for that married man who changed his life, but finds the man’s grandson instead. The two hit it off as friends and seem to be heading towards a relationship. But wait, is this what Grey is looking for, another island romance, or is it just another form of escape? Is it possible to reconcile the future by delving into the past? Will Elba be his downfall or his savior?

There were parts of this book I loved, and parts I didn’t. The first forty-six pages – Grey’s time spent in Europe and on Elba – was some of the most beautiful writing I have read in a long, long time. Clearly Banks is an extremely talented writer. And again, when Grey returns to Elba, I couldn’t put it down. The story held me with an engrossing story of two men who need each other, but move slowly towards friendship, both being very cautious not to make mistakes.

Yet, the time Grey spends in New York and the time after Elba, I found weighed down with way too much dull, seemingly pointless detail, so much so that more than once I nearly put it down and walked away. Yes, the author was making a statement that Grey’s life was torturously meaningless for him, contrasting it to that day on Elba – I get it. There was no need to hammer me over the head with it for 130 pages, nor a need to describe everything in minute detail. Fortunately, once Grey returns to Elba, the pace picks up again.

Yet, even with this painfully slow middle section, I finished this read with a smile. The writing style and voice are superb. Just read this tidbit:

“Before I saw Elba, there was nothing but sea and sky. Then it appeared, small on the horizon, an insignificant fleck just below the vanishing point. On the water, perspectives are not forged from hard angles. No perfect square is centered on the edge of the sea. The imminence is the same, yet the path, variable. Nascent and amorphous, the island bobs up, down, right and left as the boat stays its course.”

The characters have depth, the settings are vivid with lush description, the relationships seem too real to be fiction. Banks is a talent, and it shows through as brightly as the sun peaking over the horizon where water meets the sky. I highly recommend Able Was I.


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