Sunday, 16 September 2012

Chase in Shadow, Amy Lane


Angst, thy name is Chase in Shadow.

- Review by Kazza K

I read this book because it was chosen for me in a Bookholics Anonymous reading challenge. I’ve gone to read Amy Lane on a number of occasions and I’ve balked every time. This time my hand was forced, and I’m glad it was. I enjoyed Chase in Shadows, by and large. So a big shout out to Talya for the pick.
The basic story

Chase is living with his girlfriend, Mercy, they are young. Mercy works. Chase is at college. He is twenty turning twenty one. He needs money to pay for rent, save for a house, buy nice things for Mercy - to realise an ideal. He gets told Johnnies, a gay-for-pay porn site, is hiring. Voila! He’s in. Good money, he gets to have sex with other gay men but, hang on, he’s a straight, baseball playing, engineer studying jock. He’s  s t r a I g h t. However, we discover that ‘straight Chase’ is actually not. He is repressed, gay Chase. He’s just too terrified to admit it openly. We also discover that Chase has problems, none of which he can admit openly. We learn about Chase’s dysfunctional upbringing. We watch Chase’s life become one big, long, messy, complication.  This book is angst-ridden, but I like angst.  It is also sexy, I like sexy too.

The writing -   
The book does jump around from current, to prior events all mixed in with Chase’s thought processes. I had to settle into Ms. Lane’s style of writing, then it worked very well.

The writing was clever. Particularly when Amy Lane contrasted the reality of Chase’s everyday life against the intense emotions he felt when he could be with Tommy, in Tommy’s arms. How he felt about Mercy, with Mercy –
God, he was always so grateful to her. Why couldn’t some of that gratitude translate to need?

“The foods great Merce….”
"Worth coming home to?” she asked grinning, like she knew the answer. God help me, I’d rather be eating Chinese takeout with Tommy.

The way Chase’s dissociative moments, were occurring, as opposed to what was being said, or against what was said and what was meant –

“You work with anyone fun?” Mercy asked……
"Dex and Tommy were on my crew,” he said keeping his voice absolutely casual. “Dex is sort of the leader – he’s a good guy. Funny…”
 “What about Tommy?”  He’s beautiful. He has a wicked, wicked smile, and his hands on my skin feel amazing…  "He wants to be a veterinarian, you know?”
How he was getting closer to the edge and beyond, and why. Chase talking to Tommy about their mother’s –

"She didn’t want to leave you anyway. My mom didn’t even know and she left. Maybe if someone knows all of me, that’s just too much fucked up to stand.”
“Show’s on, Tommy.” Chase wouldn’t let anymore slip out.
You would think there’s no way of sugar coating major situations, Mercy was a nice girlfriend who believed in and trusted Chase. He was having an affair, working in porn whilst living with and, sometimes, having sex with Mercy. To her everything seemed normal. It wasn't. It was a hot mess. 

Affairs are powerful things, you live outside of the everyday, you can bypass reality – reality as in dealing with major trauma and family dysfunction. That was well constructed here. If you really look into Chase’s characterization there were solidly written, quantifiable reasons for Chase’s deceit and ongoing behaviour. I’ll give you this Amy Lane, you knew how to perfectly pull back on Mercy’s character, to make her seem nice, yet she almost seemed like the ‘other woman,’ not Tommy being the ‘other man.’ It was smart witing, making the necessary character’s appear sympathetic. Personally, I liked Mercy, I liked Tommy and I understood Chase.
This book, to me, is not so much about being closeted but rather how it can happen. About mental health issues and the huge role parents play in either creating a nurturing environment in which children have a chance to grow and develop into fairly happy, functioning adults....or unhappy, dysfunctional adults. Chase’s mother could not cope. She was a depressed, suicidal woman. His father abusive, destructive, very toxic. There is enough difficulty adjusting to your sexuality without the guilt that was thrown Chase’s way. –

‘My mom committed suicide when I was six, and my dad would rather I be dead than a fag.’
The characters -

Chase, in all honesty, was a complex character. He was a difficult character to like. You could feel sorry for him, you could dislike him, you could even hate the deceit that he used so easily and so well. And he did. And he knew it. He is quite simply one of the most self-loathing characters I’ve read about. To let reality in was too overwhelming for Chase. Having shut down years ago, and developed great avoidance skills, taught Chase how to step it up into lies, manipulation and deceit. Not because he’s a bad person, rather it’s how he's survived. Survival is the key here, because even before, but especially after his mother’s suicide, that’s all Chase did. He survived on fantasies of what the perfect life was. He idealised his best friend’s mother, that she was the perfect mother, because she was nice to him, made him cookies. He idealised his girlfriend, Mercy, she was nice, helped him with homework, cooked for him. He built her up as the way to create the perfect white-picket-fence-life. Mercy was a mother substitute in every sense of the word for Chase, he didn’t know that consciously, but she was. He idealised porn as the relief he felt he needed, when in fact it just masked more of his pain. It was a release, yes, it resulted in some positives, in the long run, but it was still another band-aid.

Tommy is a twenty three year old fairly uncomplicated, yet intuitive man, who has been working in the porn industry - at Johnnies - for three years. He wanted, needed, Chase from his first meeting. There is one issue with Tommy, exacerbated by the industry he's in and his affair with Chase, but it's dealt with fairly quickly. He knew Chase was in a relationship, knew Chase ‘zoned out’, knew Chase had some problems - but wanted him anyway.  Yes, Tommy let Chase get away with things, but he’s desperately in love. He’s prepared to overlook much. They click, they have common interests, they like one another, Chase says the most to Tommy, before fear always stops him short. Tommy is a very likeable character, apart from the fact he’s sleeping with someone else’s partner. Here I’ll come back to the clever writing. For all intents and purposes you could/should dislike Tommy, see him as a home-wrecker, but he comes off as the man-done-wrong. He comes off as sweet – he loves his mum and his mum’s cat, he gets a kitten, and a turtle...aww. He also gets the rough end of the pineapple on more than one occasion and when he’s sick and needs Chase, Chase walks out, in true self-flagellating Chase style.
Mercy is a decent person, she a good partner, she’s kind to Chase, wants Chase’s father to come over to their place for Christmas dinner. After Mercy rang Chase’s dad about the dinner –

“What did he say?”
“What in the fuck did you just say to her?”

“I told your little spic bitch to stay the hell away from me,” Chase’s dad snarled back into the phone. I don’t want no fuckin’ beans and rice for dinner.”

But Mercy was nothing if not forgiving, she still had Chases' father over. Perhaps she was too nice - is there really such a thing? – but she was written more and more off-page as the book progressed, as Chase was away 'working,' imploding, and crisis filled up more space. Mercy is constantly lied to, cheated on and taken for a ride. It’s not pretty and I felt for her. Chase truly loved her but as a mother substitute and a friend.  How things progressed to her being told about Chase was terrible. Seriously, poor Mercy. Okay, the thing she does near the end is silly, but they’re all so young. 

All the secondary characters from Johnnies are likeable, Dex, Kane, Cameron etc. Chase’s best friend since school, Donnie, is just terrific. Or they are obnoxious – stand up Victor, Chase’s dad. No matter what, there is not an uninteresting person in the bunch of them.

I have some niggles -
First of all, I’m not too keen on young guys as the MC’s in books. I don’t mind one young(er) guy but I’m not good with two. Here we have two, so I did struggle with that, it’s a personal thing, and remember this is a challenge book. The dialogue at times was young, I get the character's age, but –
 I'm gonna get sex! Sex! Sex, sex, sex, sex, sex....from a man. Oh God. I'm gonna come in my pants  

And –
"Goody, goody, goody, goody, goody....”


Chase splooged all over his hand.

...left me cold. To quote Detective Murtagh – 'I’m getting too old for this shit!'

Second, the porn industry comes off as way too nice here. It is not kind on people at the best of times, let alone on those with emotional fissures in place....and Chase had chasms. Yet, they were all best buddies. Even Johnny, the owner of Johnnies, was a stand-up guy.

The Christmas analogies bugged me. I got them, they just went too far.

It was too long. I would have been happier if it could have been cut back.

I liked Chase in Shadow. It was a thought provoking and entertaining read. I'm glad I've now read an Amy Lane book, it was about time. I'm going to finish the review with a quote from Tommy and a much healthier Chase -
“Why so hot and horny?” Tommy grinned. “Not that I mind in the least.”
Chase smiled and blushed. “Cause my father’s a tool, and I may be a faggot, but that’s not a bad thing. I like my body. I like sex. I like sex with you better than any sex on the fucking planet. And that’s nothing to be ashamed about.”

Nothing at all Chase.

No comments:

Post a Comment