In Bouvier and Clements’ debut novel, Thomas Paul Stanton’s upbringing is a Dickensian nightmare.
Thomas Paul suffers physical and verbal abuse from his absentee father, his mother is mentally ill, and he agonizes over self-loathing spurred by his family life and the ever-growing revelation that he seems different from his peers. Eventually, he realizes he’s gay. He seeks to find answers to his anguish through God and/or religion, but his spiritual yearning is met with conflict, confusion and, ultimately, abuse at the hands of a priest. Similarly, as he seeks acceptance from his family, his need seems all too often to be met with some form of abuse. Before he’s even 3 years old, Thomas Paul witnesses a confusing scene of naked boys “playing” beneath a makeshift tent; then suddenly, one of the boys tries to sexually abuse him—a traumatic incident that gives him recurring nightmares. As his mother’s mental condition deteriorates, Thomas Paul can no longer turn to her for comfort. Just as he begins to accept who he is, the teenage Thomas Paul meets a priest, whom he admires. The priest invites him to his home, where he sexually abuses him. Only years later, in intensive therapy, does Thomas Paul come to understand that he was sexually abused by the priest. Readers who have suffered any kind of abuse will surely identify with this novel, which reads very much like a memoir; thankfully, it has a positive resolution. While the book tells a powerful story, too often the authors tell rather than show. For instance, a good part of the novel is spent with Thomas Paul in a therapist’s office, where he relates traumatic events from his past. Therapy is a crucial part of Thomas Paul’s ultimate recovery, but presenting key parts of the story in this manner turns the book into more of an extended summary than a complete story. Furthermore, sloppy copy editing mistakes—missing quotation marks and paragraph indentations, for example—mar the presentation.
An engaging, inspiring rise above a traumatic childhood, but it’s dampened by a narrative that’s more sketch than story.