Tuesday, January 16, 2018

How Burke Got His Groove Back

I'll preface this by warning that I actually know the author, having been at a festival with him and having him as a FB friend. 

Michael Thomas Ford's The Road Home centers on Burke, a professional photographer from Boston, as he recuperates from a serious car accident at his father's farm in upstate Vermont. This is after determining that Burke's ex, Gregg, doesn't have room (or more to the point, Gregg's current doesn't like Burke), and every other Boston option has its own issues, like smoking or cats. Gregg, being a big city gay, isn't exactly thrilled to be trapped in casts on his dominant hand and leg and then shipped off to the farm. Of course, going home comes with its own baggage, as his best friend from high school, Mars (with whom he shared one moment of drunken passion) is the town vet.

Mars, as it turns out, is married and has a 20 year old son, who has the hots for Burke, regardless of the fact that Burke's twice his age. Not long after Burke's father and his new girlfriend give Burke some antique cameras his grandfather owned, Will reminds Burke what happens in the barnyard while taking pictures at a particularly rustic ruin of a farm. (Side note: I hit that particular section while I was at work. And suddenly was getting asked by everyone in the break room why I was blushing.) The farm ruin has its own part to play, as dad's girlfriend, Lucy, gives Burke a book her dead husband wrote about Vermonters in the Civil War. Said book has a picture of two gents and a girl, whom Burke tries to track down.

Tracking them down leads to the next town over, where Sam the librarian helps him dig into the history of the farm and the three people in the picture. Mind you, Sam is also gay, goes to Radical Fairie gatherings, and has never settled down, so it's not a great surprise when later on Burke and Sam start filing each other's card catalogs.

Mind you, there's still Will in the picture, who has a girlfriend (with a purity ring). Who doesn't understand why Burke isn't just thrilled to be his occasional side piece while he lives a heterosexual life in the public eye.

And then there's Burke's father, whom he can barely talk to, and when the conversation does come, the real issue between the father and son is not the one that was particularly expected.

In the end, everything works out, more or less, as these things do, and something close to a happy ending for most of them.

Now, the biggest issue I had reading this came from the fact that, other than my hometown is nowhere near the Green Mountains, much of Burke's reactions toward his cow pastoral matches with how I feel about my old Ohio home in the rolling hills. Well, except I doubt that I'm likely to give up the creature comforts of big city anonymity to move home where anything you do is public knowledge by the time you get home. (Seriously. Much as I enjoyed the story, I spent much of it having nightmares about having to live in my hometown again.)

I'd comment on the role of coincidence and fate in the narrative, but honestly, it's closer to that of The Bridge of San Luis Rey than say the Deus ex Machina of any comic book plot line.

It's also hard not to think of Will as a more pathos ridden Caliban, left without an ending by his own design.

I was amused when, early on, Burke finds a dog eared paperback of a Gordon Merrick novel on his nightstand. While Burke had bought a copy at WaldenBooks back in high school, I found myself thinking back on buying two of his novels at a used book store back in college.

It's a good read, and one that while the melody isn't mine, I've sung the notes on the chords that give it resonance a good many times.

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