The Brothers Bishop - Bart Yates
Every so often a novel comes along that fits you so well it's like skin. This book was more like reading of a past life than reading fiction.
Set on the stormy ocean coast of Connecticut, where sand and sea is constantly on your skin and passions blow as freely as the wind, Nathan and Tommy are brothers, now in their early thirties. Nathan has stayed in town and teaches High School English; Tommy has gravitated to the brighter lights of New York, perhaps looking for a place that burns even brighter than he does. Opposite in looks and personality, nevertheless something ties these two men painfully close together. One day, Nathan gets a call that Tommy is coming back for a two-week vacation, bringing his latest lover, Philip, and a married couple Camille and Kyle.
Coincidently, at the same time, the local historical society starts to dig up one of Nathanís fields, looking for a lost Indian village.
Shut up together in the cottage, emotions boil like a storm at sea between the four protagonists, the pot only stirred by the presence of Simon, a fifteen-year old exploring his sexual identity for the first time.
Raking over the past isnít good, either for fields or people and both are left at the end of this novel scarred and worn, never to recover.
I could actually feel the sand and salt of this novel, literally abrasive on the skin and metaphorically abrasive to the heart. The people seemed like people Iíve met, Nathan narrating with thoughts I have in my own head. Thereís not one word out of place or one aspect of the novel that doesnít challenge or delight.
I cannot recommend this novel too highly. Itís going to haunt me for a very long time. I guess if could have written any book on this site, it would have been this one.
Do not miss this experience.
ďLove is raw, and violent and instantaneous.† You donít fall in love; you get trampled by it.Ē This stunning novel makes you experience that pain.† It is about love.† And death.† What it does to people left behind, knocked off-balance and struggling to cope, not an end but the beginning of a journey.†
Nathan Bishopís mother died when he was 5 years old and brother Tommy only 3, leaving grieving father Vernon solely responsible for their nurturing.† What those boys needed most of course was simply love and affection.† Sadly their father was locked in his own guilt and pain; therefore they turned to each other.† The consequences lead to a dramatic climax in which a lifetime of secrets, guilt and self-denial blows wide open with heartbreaking results.
Nathan hasnít moved on since his father died 3 years earlier.† Though once inseparable, he hasnít seen Tommy since the funeral.† Now itís summer and Tommy calls from New York to announce out of the blue heís arriving for 2 weeks holiday.† Bringing along toyboy Philip and another married couple.† Nathan is a loner, so this invasion of his privacy isnít going to be easy. He appears in control but really is a messed up wreck of anger and self-hate.† However heís likeable, witty and sarcastic though not above being petty and even cruel.
Relationships between fathers and sons are often problematic. Vernon Bishop was a vindictive homophobic child abuser Nathan hated with bitter passion thatís bone-deep. Quick to anger, Nathan lashes out at those around him, then suffers with guilt.† A chip off the old block- and he knows; fears it. Other characters comment on the resemblance, and scene after scene enforces the point.† At 31 heís a high school teacher without vocation, living alone in an idyllic coastal community in Connecticut surrounded by memories he tries to keep a lid on.
Nathan's a sometimes unreliable but eventually honest narrator, his own harshest critic.† Not because he wants to deceive but because the truth is just too hurtful.† He and Tommy are chalk and cheese.† Nathan wrestles with demons, while Tommy cruises through life a golden boy effortlessly adored.† Especially a succession of pretty boy lovers he changes like his sheets.
Nathan is celibate and repressed, Tommy a brazen gay wanton.† Both so deep in denial they can barely stand to be around each other.† Theyíre in love but refuse to admit it.† Each in his own way avoids getting close to anyone else: the legacy of emotionally crippling guilt, two lonely boys clinging to each other because they had no one else, an intimate relationship condemned by society as taboo.† Yates doesnít judge his characters.† He presents Nathan & Tommyís relationship and leaves us to make up our own minds.† There are no easy black & white moral certainties.† Compassion and understanding conflict with Nathanís admission of selfish weakness, like the story of first love Andy who Nathan turned on with spite after Vernon scared him off.
The cottage is a powder keg of emotions, with almost unbearable tension.† Tommyís insecure boyfriend Philip is jealous of young Simon, 15 year old student of Nathanís who hangs around, catalyst for a chain of events with disastrous consequences.† Camille & Kyle are newlyweds coming apart at the seams. Kyle hides in the closet but not for much longer, the only question whether itís Nathan or Tommy heíll jump on.†
The story involves underage sex, but itís entirely consensual. In many countries the boy legally could consent.† Thereís the old double standard too between gay and hetero sex. Yates doesnít condone the relationship; however he retains sympathy for his characters and handles the issue with sensitivity.† The boy uses the older man to get what HE wants yet the law says paedophilic rape.† Which makes sibling experimentation seem a natural way to satisfy teenage hormones and sexual confusion within a loving relationship.
Thereís a subplot involving an archaeological dig on Nathanís land to uncover an Indian village that made me think Amityville Horror, a malignant influence. However itís merely an obvious symbol of what lies beneath, secrets and lies that are the seeds of destruction.
I couldnít put this book down.† Until I had to take a break because I was crying too hard to continue.† I have issues with the ending.† Is what Nathan & Tommy do together such a sin? It hurt only them- more than systematic cruelty and abuse by their father, who, in his own way, loved them and they knew it.† It contrasts with The Carnivorous Lamb, with a similar theme of brother incest.† I was emotionally numb, puffy-eyed with tears after Iíd crept away to get through the final pages in private.† I just donít think itís justified or necessary to punish characters simply because theyíre gay.† However it didnít spoil the novel.† Amazing writing, not to be missed; but itíll break you.