" If you have no wounds how can you know if you're alive? If you have no scar how do you know who you are? Have been? Can ever be? "-- Man, The Play About the Baby by Edward Albee
There has been a considerable amount of good press for Peter Gadol’s Silver Lake (Tyrus Books, 2009), and it has been selected as a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Fiction. One of the things that captured my attention is that it is labeled as being a “psychological thriller”. Reading the blurb on the dust jacket, I thought this would be a nice departure from the other books I've talked about recently. It is true that this intriguing novel involves a “mystery”, but that is merely the device the author uses for the more important things this novel has to offer.
So, don’t expect Agatha Christie, although there is a suspicious death, and lots of clues along the way. Instead, expect a much deeper exploration of the main character’s inner selves. This seemingly "perfect" couple has a lot going on under the surface, and what happens to them is presumably meant to be a catalyst for change. However, depending on how the story rests with you, that aspect is clearly debatable.
Being his sixth novel, and returning to a familiar Los Angeles setting, Godol gives us the tale of two men, Carlos and Robbie, partnered for twenty years, and seemingly having it all together. The story starts in a somewhat idyllic fashion, with a long meandering first sentence that sets the scene perfectly. All should be well. However, it does not take long for their comfortable routine to be jarred significantly.
Into their lives, quite unexpectedly, or so we initially think, comes a mystery man. His name is Tom, and although he enters the picture as a result of having his car break down, we eventually find out that his being there is no accident.
Robbie is the first to meet him, and Tom’s energy and allure are immediately felt. How could Robbie be taken is so fast? Is there something here we do not know? Carlos also meets him, and seems to step back and let Robbie enjoy this strangely alluring individual. Of course, we immediately want to know why.
Initially it is a bit of a challenge to accept Tom’s quick infusion into the lives of these two men, but soon skepticism turns to understanding. Little by little, a murky story unfolds, filled with secrets and deceptions. Carlos has met Tom before, and although it takes a while for us to find out when and how, it is immediately clear that their meeting is to be kept a secret from Robbie. This is the beginning of a long line of secrets. Now the plot thickens.
A lot happens between Tom and Robbie in a very short while; tennis, talks, and finally an evening together that turns decidedly ugly. At a dinner with the two men, Tom gets very drunk, and in a sharp change of mood, he becomes very dark and brooding. He tells a story of a man who holds a woman and her boy captive and with a knife against the woman’s throat and the man utters this horrific statement; “Your kid or your eyes.” What does this mean? Tom abruptly switches moods, and suggests that the three of them engage in sex. Yikers!
Most of us would, after collecting our hearts from the floor, do our best to move this guy out the door. Not so for Robbie and Carlos. They soothe him and insist he spend the night. What happens next sets the story ablaze, and becomes the hook of this book. Sometime during the night or early morning Tom hangs himself. Now, the question that propels the action forward is, once again,” why?”
Rather than bring Robbie and Carlos close, the shock of this single event creates an incredible chasm between them. It causes each partner to go to places they may not have otherwise gone. Carlos is driven by the fierce need to keep his secret, and Robbie completely retreats into a world that is consumed with finding out why Tom did what he did, and more significantly, just who Tom is/was.
The two men drift farther and farther apart. They barely share the same physical space, and their minds are always elsewhere. Robbie finds Tom's personal telephone book and uses that to connect with Tom's past via the people he knew. Carlos, engages in an odd relationship with a young man named Gabriel. This connection in particular, dramatically brings us to the pivotal moment in the book
This is a clearly a book about secrets and lies. The phrase, “We’re only as sick as our secrets” is clearly understandable within the context of this story. Loneliness, even within a relationship, is another significant theme presented in the book. The officer who is there to check the crime scene first makes the statement that Tom must have been terribly lonely. 'Why so lonely?’ This question is asked repeatedly. Will we ever know?
Gadol weaves a story that compels us to join the investigation. I must admit, there are times when it feels as though we are being manipulated to feel and think things that have no bearing on reality-but, in my mind, reality is so often distorted in this book that it's clearly the author’s choice to keep us guessing.
Appearance versus reality is something that we keep bouncing between as we read. It is often hard to figure out what to believe, even when the “truth” is supposedly revealed. I am not saying that this is a bad thing, as it certainly keeps our minds engaged.
This book was the recent selection for the Outings and Adventures Men’s Book Club, a group that meets monthly in Tampa or St. Petersburg (http://outingsandadventures.com/) I sensed that it would be a good discussion book, and could not wait to hear what the others had to share . No one disliked it, and everyone found lots to talk about. There was a lot of speculation as to who these guys are, what they become, and why this single act of violence creates a storm in their lives that either ruins them, or redeems them. (Yes dear reader, you will be the one making the choice).
I don’t think I need to issue a spoiler alert here, so I won’t go into details, but the book gives us one ending, seemingly the one we are expecting, and then, stops the action, rewinds the tape, and unfolds an entirely different finale. To me, this was jarring-clearly something meant to shake up our thinking, and I am still not sure how well I like it. However, it is effective, especially in churning out all types of reactions within us.
Bottom line, Silver Lake keeps you engaged, provokes you, confuses you, and frustrates you. It will be yours to decide whether it satisfies or disappoints. All in all, it is definitely good read.
Care to share? Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week, something different from a well know writer of Lesbian Romance, Radclyffe,writing as L.L.Rand . The Midnight Hunt launches a new series and a new genre. You will love it!!!
Until then, happy reading.