Currier (The Forever Marathon, 2013, etc.) explores Matthew Shepard’s murder in richly empathetic fiction.
Currier recently unearthed his manuscript, written in the wake of Matthew Shepard’s death in 1998. Though set in a small town in the South, “This story could happen anywhere.” Rick and A.J. meet Danny, a gay college student, in a bar and beat him in their truck before leaving him for dead, tied to a fence post. Subsequent chapters bounce between back story and aftereffects, deftly interspersing hospital and police station scenes with vignettes from Danny’s everyday life. After a roadside rape and attempted suicide, Danny wonders how to be a homosexual in the Bible Belt. It is simple to hook up with strangers but impossible “To be out, open, romantically gay in a small town like this.” Written in powerful, choppy sentences and consciously patterned after screenplays and true-crime stories, Currier’s novel is told in the present tense, shifting among the perspectives of the many characters involved. Effective litanies of phrases beginning with “He will not”—“He will not see the snow. But he will feel the cold, his arms numb”—contrast Danny’s carefree activities on the day before the crime with his current incapacitation, revealing the legacy he will not live to see. One bravely cinematic chapter traces a blood sample’s journey to the laboratory. Technical and emotive languages are given equal importance: “his neural repatternings are transforming him into pure spirit”; “Cords snake around chairs, looking for outlets.” Currier’s sympathy also extends to the perpetrators, as he uncovers sexual traumas in their pasts. In a sensitive juxtaposition of Christian responses to homosexuality, the openness of Rev. Fletcher combats the intolerance of Rev. White, who brings his “God Hates Fags” message to town to boycott Danny’s funeral. Readers might find it difficult to keep the many characters straight, especially since most chapters simply open with “He” or “She,” but the large cast shows how widely a crime’s ripples extend. “The story mushrooms, grows branches” and eventually affects us all,” Currier writes. In 1998, he felt “the crime was analyzed and politicized but oddly not humanized”; here he imbues it with human warmth.
A compassionate tribute to hate-crime victims.