REVIEW: Beneath the Stars by Lynn Charles

Beneath the Stars by Lynn Charles (February 16, 2017); 300 pages. Available from Interlude Press here.


Beneath the Stars by Lynn Charles tells the romance of Sid, a clothing designer and C-DRT volunteer (those are the folks who support the firefighters and other rescue workers on the scene of a disaster) and Eddie, a firefighter (who is also the fire chief). Playing large parts in this romance are the struggles each character faces with family and loss: Sid’s mother died when he was younger, and his father is in the throes of dementia when the novel begins; Eddie had a baby with his friend Maggie, who died of cancer not many years after, leaving Eddie to raise their now-5-year-old child, Adrian. The two men meet on the scene of a fire and strike up a relationship, but they must figure out how to accommodate their responsibilities to take care of other people and things (Eddie, the fire victims and his son Adrian; Sid, aside from his work as firefighter support, has his suffering father and his fledgling clothing-design business, Bastra).

There is neat symmetry here: though the characters are dealing with very different forms of loss and caretaking, they both do. Negotiating their new relationship together is, in part, about negotiating the difficulties of those pulls in other directions (other people, other cities). Along the way, each becomes imbricated in the other’s concerns (Sid, for instance, becomes attached to Adrian; Eddie… well, I don’t want to give away the ending of the book, but Eddie gets attached, too).

This is a mature romance, in other words. Or, it’s a romance about mature people with mature-people problems: kids, illness, jobs, attachments, and very fully-realized lives outside each other. This is the kind of love story that’s hard to find: one in which the world doesn’t stop and end at the romance. I remember when I was young and fell in love—everything else fell away and was secondary; my life (my desires, my time, my location, everything) fit around my love. When I got older, though, falling in love meant having to figure out how to fit my love around my life instead. When two fully-realized lives come together, there’s fitting to be done, compromising and rethinking, falling in love with (or at least learning to tolerate) everything your lover cares for (family, friends, houses, etc.), figuring out how to share with someone else what’s always been yours alone. Very often, younger love gets to be more selfish; mature love has to learn to compromise.

(Don’t misunderstand: these guys are still pretty young, by my standards, but they’re established in their lives. They’re not Romeo-and-Juliet-aged teens. They’ve got roots and responsibilities. Maturity is about that, not the number of candles you put on your cake.

As a result of all the different kinds of attachment, this is a story of different kinds of love. I may be Greek, but I’ve done my best to forget everything I had to learn in Greek School as a kid (yes, non-Greeks, that’s a thing), so I don’t remember the different kinds of love the Greeks named, but I’m pretty sure they’re all here. There’s romantic love, of course, on center stage, but there’s also the love of children, fathers and mothers, friends… and beyond that, there’s the love that is passion for hobbies or work. All those kinds of love figure prominently here.

The title comes from the story’s theme of stars and constellations, a passion that Sid’s father Lou shares with his son. This connection to something more permanent and bigger-than-people fits, for me, with the story’s concern for maturity: love isn’t fleeting, and it’s not limited to your tiny sphere of concern, burning bright and hot, but igniting and burning out fast (like I remember it did when I was 16); mature love is something larger that shifts the world and gives gravity to all bodies,  a force by which to guide ships (was that Aphrodite?), to mark the seasons and the hours, and one that will outlast any single tiny life.


REVIEW: Black Dust by Lynn Charles

Black Dust by Lynn Charles (April 7, 2016); 312 pages. Available from Interlude Pres here.

Black Dust by Lynn Charles tells the story of Emmett and Toby, who were high school sweethearts until a car crash left Emmet permanently disabled, their friend Scotty dead, and Toby wracked with guilt (he was driving, and made it out physically pretty ok).  Now, so many years later, Toby and Emmett have gone their separate ways and have made very separate lives, one in Ohio, one in New York. The story begins when they find each other again, and must heal their relationship (there’s still so much love there) and find a way to mourn their friend Scotty’s death.  To do that, they must confront their own culpability in his death, and in the death of their relationship—all of this comes to a head when Toby visits Emmett in Ohio, and must revisit the most painful territory of his entire life.

It’s a novel about chickens coming home to roost.  If I say “literally,” perhaps that isn’t correct—there are no broody barn birds here, even if a lot of the story happens in Ohio.  But Toby’s spent his life terrified to face Emmett (who, with his cane and his limp, is a constant reminder of the crash), the scene of the crash, and all the places Scotty’s ghost still haunts. Toby’s chicken to do so; he chickens out in earlier attempts—perhaps it’s correct to say this is a story about metaphorical chickens literally going home to roost.

But this is also a story of creation, and the labors that takes, the pain and the joy involved in making something.  Toby and Emmett are both musicians, and Toby has been hiding from the composition he began to write for Emmett. In pressing on to finish, to find the ways to determine the direction of the piece and resolve it, Toby’s finding a way to tell the emotional story of his love, the subsequent crash, of everything he lost.  It’s as beautiful a metaphor for healing as I’ve ever seen: healing oneself as a form of creation, as a creative act. I think that’s right.

Here, right here, is why I love this metaphor. Emmett and Toby have just begun to reacquaint and rekindle their once-love, and Toby has just let Emmett hear his still-in-scraps attempts at musically confronting their past.  Emmett says, “You have an outstanding love letter, Toby. The harmonies are rich, the rhythmic patterns you have going on—with just the piano—are amazing. But if you want to tell a love story, you have to include all of it.” What Toby needs to find, Emmett suggests, is the dissonance that will make this piece (and this story) complete, allow it to make sense. By avoiding the discomfort of dissonance, Toby is actually not allowing the piece to find resolution.

It strikes me as very right. What I love about the discomfort of, say, Stravinsky (a favorite composer of mine) is, yes, the boldness of bringing on discomfort, but also the relief of having that discomfort resolved, of this returning to “rightness.” That feeling would never happen without the discomfort first. This novel grabs that small truth and amplifies it, lets it run wild, lets it really be. What results is gut-wrenching discomfort and the relief and rightness of resolution, a beautiful story, and—at least on this reader’s part—quite a few tears and deep-heaved breaths of relief.




Two-Fisting Lit

Currently, I’m two-fisting my novels.  (Ok, well, actually three-fisting, but that sounds wrong.)

Right now I’m reading THE BETTER TO KISS YOU WITH by Michelle Osgood (released TODAY!!), BLACK DUST by Lynn Charles and LOVE STARVED by Kate Fierro, all from Interlude Press.  I wish I had the time to slowly savor each one (summer’s coming, so I SHALL return…) but right now, it’s book bingeing for me.  I will be posting some book reviews soon, but in the meantime…

I’d tell you to go get your own copies and race me, but I also am reading a crap-ton of stuff for teaching, plus am inclined to linger rather than to be speedy with books I love (I really HATED the speed reading techniques I used to teach because I ENJOY reading with sweet slowness), so it wouldn’t be much of a contest for you.

Better yet, run to the Interlude Press online store, grab copies of these great books for yourself, read, and then tell me what YOU think! I may not be speedy, gur, but I can DISCUSS books with great pleasure!