A striking debut full of pain, longing and confusion, Chee’s saga (winner of the James Michener/Copernicus Society Award, Iowa Writers’ Workshop) looks with exquisite care at the lasting effects of a pedophile’s predation on the members of a boys’ choir in Maine.
Young Aphias Zhe, nicknamed Fee, is a Korean-American already self-conscious when he joins the Pine State Boys Chorus. He is dark while so many of his peers are blond, but his difference amounts to more than that. When the choir director, Big Eric, makes his move on the section leaders during a camping trip, Fee is left feeling as degraded as the others, but he also knows that there’s a sharp difference between the way he responds to boys and the way Big Eric does. Fee’s best friend Peter is his secret love, and Fee organizes a kind of resistance to Big Eric in order to keep Peter as safe as he can. After Big Eric is finally unmasked and imprisoned, however, Peter kills himself, unable to come to terms with what the man did to him. Life goes on, with Fee never forgetting that first love and loss. In time, he becomes an art teacher and swimming coach at a private school in Maine, with a steady, loving partner. But one of his swimmers, Warden, is infatuated with him, to the point of becoming physically ill. Unfortunately, although Fee doesn’t know it, Warden is not just any boy with a crush: He is Big Eric’s son, only an infant when his father went to jail, and never told the truth about his father’s history. When the boy forces the romantic issue with Fee, the shameful past comes roaring into the present, with deadly consequences.
A complex story told with skill and intensity, but also filled with moments when agony and extraordinary beauty somehow coexist.