I would rate this 4.75 stars.
The title says it all really. This is a young man with mental health issues who, on his 18th birthday, finds out his biological father lives in the next city over. Apparently he left them right after Zander’s birth, and he is actually gay even though he started a new family with another woman. Since that is Zander’s hunting ground for older gay men to have sex with, he starts to obsess whether he might have already had sex with his own father. Sometimes, he can’t tell his real memories from his fake memories. Since much of the book is in Zander’s point of view, it makes this all incredibly dark and twisted. His need for revenge for the father that abandoned him becomes all consuming. Of course the fantasy that his life would have been different if his father has been around, because he would be well adjusted, is just a fantasy. This is someone seriously disturbed.
There are many parts of this that are psychologically interesting. The Westermarck effect hypothesizes that sexual disinterest happens with those with whom you spent most of your early life. Genetic sexual attraction (GSA) is the term coined by Barbara Gonyo in the 1980s. Apparently some adoption agencies estimate that elements of GSA occur in 50% of reunions between parents and children that have been separated at birth; this can also occur with siblings. These relationships can often turn dark and obsessive, even revenge for perceived abandonment has been documented, so this book is not farfetched at all, even when speaking of supposedly mentally healthy individuals. So, that’s where I expected this story to go. That’s not what happens here, at least on Zander’s side, but might help explain Clay’s attraction to Zander because the phenomenon happens whether you know you are related or not. This is not Daddy kink or incest kink either, although there are explicit scenes–they aren’t erotic, they just make everything complicated. The fact that they fall in love makes it all so much more devastating. It’s really just a sad story about the multigenerational life traumas of a family, made worse by Zander’s mental instability. In effect, he retraumatizes himself and takes everyone else along with him.
The beginning, the setup, is difficult to get into because almost all of this takes place in Zander’s head with very little dialogue. Once it’s setup, the story really kicks in. The fact that it’s very well thought out and written lured me into this incredibly disturbing tale. The author gives flashbacks to how being a bastard affected Zander when he was growing up, combined with the depression his mom Leona suffered from, it’s not difficult to see how he fell through the cracks. The drinking and drug use doesn’t help either of them. Obviously mental illness is sometimes hereditary. Since the reader doesn’t experience Leona’s point of view, it’s difficult to tell. Either way, this woman is a horror and Zander was let down by everyone, society included. By the time it switches to Clay’s point of view, we see he is in a rut and lonely. He’s distraught over the loss of his son, who he knows just turned 18. The reader gets his story at the same time as Zander and it changes the whole plot. Woven in are flashbacks to Clay’s childhood and his own traumas. This also layers in more information about Leona and her family. Be aware there is violence to animals in this story. What all of these tales show are the failings of the grandparents and parents involved in dealing traumatic events, so that as adults these people continue to make bad decisions and perpetuate the damage.
Zander’s sister Lottie is someone who might have come through this relatively unscathed if not for the infiltration of Zander into her life. Of course, he was already there and she suffered the effects of him, she just didn’t know it. The scenes of them as friends, although Lottie wanted more until she realizes Zander is gay, show glimpses of might have beens. The last third showing some of the events in her point of view brought me desolation as I realized if she has children, this cycle will just continue as I’m sure it did in Clay’s brother’s children. Her mom could actually get her some good counseling, but I felt no hope this would happen.
This was always a train that was going to run off the tracks; every moment careens towards a horrific conclusion. This is where the author shows some compassion, because if the whole ending had been in Clay’s head, I might not have been able to bare it. Switching points of view did leave me some welcome ambiguity. Even the final moments with Zander, while painful, are left open ended–I am left to write my own ending. What is he diagnosed with? Will he get the help he needs? Will he go to prison? Will he be institutionalized? Is any of this forgivable? I want to cry because I understand all of this, and wish I didn’t.
Rowan Massey’s Website
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