These Things Happen - Richard Kramer
THESE THINGS HAPPEN takes place right now, even as we speak … it’s the tale of a modern family, set among Manhattan’s progressive, liberal elite, the adults all prominent in their professions, rearing their children to be the same, confident that nothing much can harm them, ever. The story starts when WESLEY BOWMAN, 16, sharp and funny and defiantly individual, moves downtown from his book editor mother’s home on the Upper East Side home to live with his father and his partner for the fall term of school; Wesley, becoming a man, feels the time has come for him to more closely know (his words here) the “man from whom I did, actually, spring.” Kenny, who came out after his marriage to Wesley’s mom ended, is a much-honored gay-rights lawyer, a regular on Rachel Maddow, Charlie Rose, a frequent contributor to the Op-ed page of the New York Times. But Wesley, when he moves in, finds his father distant and inaccessible; he has much more luck connecting with his father’s partner, George, a former actor/dancer who now runs a theater district restaurant. George is present, genuinely interested, fully at ease with himself; all the things Kenny is not. He and Wesley become like father and son, really, and not because George is in any way trying to supplant Kenny. It’s just that these things happen. Then everything changes. When Wesley’s closest friend surprises him and everyone else when, after being elected class president, he comes out at the end of his acceptance speech. The two boys find themselves at the center of an act of violent, homophobic bullying (even though Wesley is straight). Within the family, tolerant facades crumble as George, suddenly, becomes suspect. Wesley’s mom values and cares for him, and has worked to have a relationship with him, as she suspects this will assure the presence of Kenny in Wesley’s life. But, now, with Wesley in the hospital being held for observation (“When did I,” she wonders, “turn into someone whose kid is held for observation?”) isn’t it her duty to wonder and worry about what might have been going on when her back was so progressively turned? Did she fail to keep her son safe? Does she, indeed, know him? Does she know George, so delightful and pleasing, an author of agreeable evenings? And, more worryingly, does this accomplished, insightful, deeply curious woman really, in the end, know herself?
These Things Happen is a sharp, laugh-out-loud funny, ultimately deeply moving story about the way we live now and the alertness and awareness we have to cultivate in order to do it. It’s about the assumptions we all unknowingly hold that we take in from the culture around us, no matter how free from “all that” we think we might be; the received convictions just beneath the surface that need only the right spark to catch fire. In this novel that fire burns its way through the stories all the characters tell themselves about themselves; no one is who they were at the start, and all must find the courage to truly, for the first time, face who they are.
I will tell you up front that I didn't think it was laugh-out-loud funny but it was humorous in some parts. Never once through the book did I laugh and think that what I just read was really funny. I will say it is a fast read and the story is actually fast. Does that make sense? It's not drawn out, the story happens within a few days and you just keep plucking along.
If you don't like books that switch from character point of view's then you will hate this book. Every chapter it's a different character you're reading from and admittedly, even I got confused and had to keep referring to which character I'm on at several parts of the book. But overall? I liked the characters. I felt bad for Wesley who, while trying to be a good friend to Theo, asks his dad Kenny and partner George some questions about being gay. This in turn makes them wonder if Wesley is gay and basically using Theo's gayness as a cover. I will say Wesley's dad Kenny is a total ass. It makes me wonder- how do you not know that you are basically ignoring your child? I mean, really? Jerk. Then Wesley's mom is a piece of work. I loved, loved, loved how she basically comes to realize she's a racist homophobe because hello- that's what she is. I don't think she or Kenny have any idea on how to be a parent to Wesley who is really misunderstood. They refer to him as a brat and rude but if you take a step back, the poor kid gets no attention. He would basically feel unwanted and I can see why. I liked George the best, Kenny's partner. He's confused but he's trying to do the best he can to be the bridge between Wesley and Kenny. Neither of them see that and in the end, I'm left feeling the worst for George. Because I think Kenny can't give George what he needs/wants and I think it's because of Kenny's insecurities with being gay himself.
But my biggest complaint of the whole book? How the characters speak. It drove me nuts. I know a lot of people, I've spoken with a lot of people, and not one person has ever spoken like that. Ever. I kept thinking that writing dialogue is probably difficult anyways because the voice you give the character has to hold through the whole book and it has to give you an idea of who that person is. I can't even describe it to you but I now wonder if all of the comma usage is to blame. Hmmm. Maybe I should try reading it visualizing commas aren't there. There's a thought.
Overall? It was good. It isn't the best book I've read, it wouldn't make a Top 20 list for me, but it was a fast read and it had a theme people could relate to. Think of what you would do if you had a son, who may or may not be gay, and is the victim of a gay bashing with his friend, and now every one's role in the family is essentially questioned. And then read.