SCISSORS, PAPER, ROCK by Fenton Johnson


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 A tender, haunting account of a rural southern family's demise as the parents sicken and die, the gay son contracts AIDS, and other siblings leave for greener urban pastures. Written in stories, each one dated, Johnson's second novel (Crossing the River, 1989) manages to be both intimate and panoramic. Raphael, 36, is the gay son of Tom and Rose Ella Hardin, but the point of view here moves easily from family member to family member--including sister Elizabeth, who near the end collects Raphael's ashes in 1990, and next-door neighbor Miss Camille Perkins, a fount of common wisdom. The story, set in the west Appalachian town of Strang Knob, begins with Tom working wood and musing on his wife's death and his own cancer, which is killing him: he ``has lost the will to ward off the voices and visions.'' Meanwhile, Raphael, the youngest of seven, muses at various places throughout about his long coming-out process, which turned him into ``a human being instead of a rock.'' Son Clark dies in 1970 in Vietnam in the chapter story ``All Fall Down.'' In ``Little Deaths,'' set in 1942, Tom in Rose Ella's presence saves a dog from drowning in a flooded river, thereby sealing the unbreakable bond between them. The book is especially strong in its exploration of the varieties of grief that accompany deaths and losses, though on occasion--as when Raphael in 1972 faces intimations of his sexual orientation in the person of self-described mechanic Willie-- Johnson also displays an antic streak. Thoughtful and poised: a careful family chronicle with a gay twist is brought to a poignant close with a haunting plea--``Who will remember me?''

Pub Date: July 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-671-79541-4
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Pocket
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1993


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