Friday, April 20, 2018

Review: "Some Hell" by Patrick Nathan

While I think it is doomed to become a rallying cry for future works of gay fiction, Patrick Nathan’s debut novel Some Hell feels like much more than that and speaks directly to the heart of anyone who hides their true selves, who are ashamed of their desires, whatever they might be, so, in short, pretty much everyone. Through fanciful prose that switches effortlessly and sometimes seamlessly from dream like to harshly real, Nathan crafts a brutal, heart-wrenching and thought-provoking look at one family, more specifically two members (a mother and her youngest son) who are torn asunder by a not so sudden tragedy and cope in different yet equally toxic manners. But at the center is one young man on the cusp of adolescence, deeply troubled by his aberrant desires and his realization of his sexuality and through his interactions with a select group of people sets himself on a collision course with who might be and what he wants to be. The book can be heavy handed at times and it took me a bit longer to read it in sittings, but it was time well spent, and in due time its greatness will only grow in stature. The novel begins with the three siblings of a Minnesota family hanging out at home after school. The oldest, Heather, tells the youngest, Colin, that he will be dead by the time he is sixteen. In this same section, really a prologue to the rest of the book, we also clear-cut signs that Alan; the father of the family will kill himself. It is rendered in a beautifully terrifying manner and reminded me of the death of Gage Creed in Pet Semetary. From there, the book follows mainly Colin and his mother Diane. Colin is aware that he is homosexual and his crush on his sex obsessed homophobic best friend Andy causes him more pain than joy. Diane, who handles her grief by developing a chain-smoking habit, goes to Tim her therapist and latches onto Colin like an anchor sinking to the bottom of an ocean (characterized brilliantly by the way he lights her cigarettes). While both perspectives are rendered separately, giving their interactions with others and each other a detached, emotionally vacant quality, both are drawn secretly to the notebook’s Alan left behind, filled with strange, doom laden facts about all kinds of subjects from Phineas Gage to parasites. This is a book filled with memorable scenes, like the culmination of Colin’s crush on Andy at a sleepover, which is chilling and disturbing, to the fleeting presence of Heather, whose life, while imperfect, seems better because of her distance away from everyone else and Paul, their severely autistic brother. The book climaxes with a misbegotten road trip around the West, where the lines between fantasy and reality fray into a waking nightmare reminiscent of Bolano at his most frightening, culminating in an ending that echoes Newton Thornburg’s Cutter and Bone, another fatalistic novel that ends in a grimly ironic fashion. This is an unforgettable work about grief, disappointment, unchecked desires and how we sometimes, if by chance, on purpose or subconsciously, hurt the ones we love most. 
Rating: 5/5

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