This excellent, emotion-fueled novel was my introduction to the author, but I hope it won’t be my last time at the Alan Chin rodeo.
I enthusiastically award First Exposure, four well deserved, shining stars and a proper Navy Salute, complete with upper right arm abeam and parallel to the ground.
Chin has given us an irresistible page-turner about friendship, protectiveness and tenderness. Over and again, through his compelling, highly complex, flawed characters, the author demonstrates that it is far more important to be a friend than to seduce one – even one for whom you have been jonesing.
The author’s brilliance is his ability to write authentically and entertainingly about the human condition, while simultaneously exposing the wide range of often-conflicting emotions and tragic imperfections that are part and parcel of our humanity.
As leads, Chin gives us two highly flawed and struggling men; unlikely friends, damaged survivors thrown together by circumstance and proximity.
Skylar Thompson and Ezra Dunphy are misfits – world-class oddballs.
Skylar is a heterosexual Navy Petty Officer who swallowed his artistic ambitions when he married Rosa, his pregnant girlfriend.
And then there is Ezra Dunphy. He is a gay Seaman, effeminate, ridiculed and shunned by his shipmates. Ezra has a drug monkey on his back, and trashy women’s clothing in his closet.
Skylar is a gifted sketch artist and Ezra is a surprisingly good shutterbug.
Regrettably both men are living counterfeit lives – haunted and unhappy by the unfortunate personal choices they have made out of seeming necessity.
Eventually Skylar takes a job arranging and delivering flowers in order to keep a roof over the heads of his wife, son, and mother-in-law. Surprisingly, this job taken out of financial necessity turns out to be a highly satisfying outlet for Skylar’s long stifled artistic expression.
Even so, not everything is coming up roses, carnations and daffodils for Skylar. A gay couple owns the place, causing military tongues to wag. Making them wag even more viciously, Skylar hangs with, and protects, the eminently effeminate Ezra.
So it isn’t long before the wives at the naval PX are giving Rosa pitying, knowing looks. The unwanted reactions reflect the belief among the sailors and their wives that Skylar must be gay because he is working for homosexuals, he is Ezra’s defender, and because he has an affinity and appreciation for beauty.
And I am thinking, Guilt by association? And also, how sad that someone cannot express his love for the beauty without having his sexual orientation called into question.
The gossip has no foundation in truth. Skylar knows who and what he is.
Sadly Rosa has less clarity. She lacks self-confidence, and she is insecure in her marriage. So she succumbs to the gossip.
Rosa takes their son, her mother, and walks out on Skylar.
Through Rosa’s ancient mother Emm, the author touches upon another pertinent subject: the quality of life, or more precisely, the lack thereof, for fragile seniors – more specifically, those relegated to marginal shadow lives in nursing home factories.
Alan Chin’s tale is sexier than it is overtly sexual. Somewhere along the path of their friendship, Ezra convinces Skylar to pose nude for his camera. During the erotic, naked photo shoot, the author takes us to the edge of sex between the disparate besties, but Chin stops short of a sexual encounter, deciding to let the eroticism dissipate. Instead, he turns the nude photo session into the framework for Ezra’s heroism.
Avoiding sex between Skylar and Ezra is one of the author’s many wise choices. And it is one in line with Skylar’s conclusion that relationships are much more about protectiveness and tenderness than they are about love and sex.
I couldn’t agree with him more.