Book Review by Bud Gundy
If you ever saw the movie Beautiful Thing, you might remember that feeling of delight in seeing a first love, coming-of-age tale told from the perspective of gay teens. Now, in the age of Glee and many other stories, this genre like all others can start to feel weighted down by formulaic and standard tropes.
In his novel Every Time I Think of You, Jim Provenzano breaks some molds and gives us a satisfying read that takes us in new directions. The story introduces Reid and Everett, two young men who hail from different parts of the same Pennsylvania town, in a chilly encounter in the snow. While out in the elements of winter, the boys heat up a private grove of trees with the sort of first encounter that most gay men will recognize – and that also illustrates the old saw that straight people should never ask a gay couple the circumstances of their first meeting.
The encounter sets in motion all the elements of a first-rate love story – the clash of economic and cultural hierarchies; the tension of family dynamics; the dizzying swirl of falling in love. While Reid is the only son of a middle class, suburban family, Everett boasts the pedigree of town founders – the sort of family that inaugurated posh local events like the Spring Fling, and whose surname graces whole areas of the city. Reid might have enjoyed the benevolence of the local Country Club that allowed children from the other side of town to enjoy the snowy hills of the golf course during winter, but Everett hails from a family who shooed those same children from the premises when golf beckoned for the wealthier families in the warmer seasons.
All the same, Reid’s family is the one most readers will appreciate and identify with, and his parents display a charming, eccentric sensibility. Everett’s family, meanwhile, is strewn across an emotional terrain scattered with distrust and conflict, all kept tightly bound by acceptable public manners.
Just as the story feels as if it is nearing the expected denouement, a sports accident shatters the effortless arc, and the characters reel off onto trajectories of remorse, rage and uncertainty. The questions become far more complex, and the answers more remote.
There’s a technicolor feel to this book, a glossy sheen of hope that sometimes shines with a glare that obscures the more desperate world of gay kids at the time and place in which these events take place – the late 1970’s in America’s Midwest. I grew up at the same time, not far from where these characters live, in a town that was culturally indistinguishable. Reading the story, there were times when I wondered if such an array of people (almost all of the parents, a sister, a peer, a counselor and a wheelchair-bound friend) would display attitudes that felt more contemporary. While this dissonance sometimes intruded, the story sailed along without pause for me, a pace set by writing appropriately honored with a Lambda Literary Award.
In the end, Provenzano carries the reader along by the collar, creating a love story that veers in unexpected directions and that offers a readable tale that rarely pauses for breath.
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