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4.0 out of 5 stars Loved it EXCEPT,
5.0 out of 5 stars If you have a heart, this book will move you,
If being gay these days is difficult for young people (and it undoubtedly is, alas), the era in which John grew up was even harsher. Francis also paints a perfect picture of time, and of the terrible 80s, when so many were dying of "the gay disease." Joyce's life, it seems, as been book-ended by gay men, and if I had one quibble with the book it would be that the narratively convenient circle this creates feels just a tiny bit contrived. But never mind, the characters are so beautiful and compassionately crafted it's a small niggle indeed.
I can't imagine anyone with a heart not being moved by this book. Well done, Mr. Francis.
4.0 out of 5 stars Everything you need is in your own backyard,
The story is told from the perspective of octogenarian Joyce Sparks, who is in a nursing home, commentating tartly on her fellow 'inmates,' the staff, and her surroundings. Her voice is one of the most authentic I've read in a long time'she's a snappish, sharp old woman, more brittle than frail. Both her son and her husband are dead, and she doesn't seem to have any friends.
Joyce tells us her story across several different timelines, and Francis shifts us effortlessly between her soda-jerk era teenaged years, her motherhood, and the years between the deaths of her son and her husband, and her time in the nursing home. She touches on her infatuation with Freddy, her obviously gay schoolmate, whose suicide after leaving town and falling in with a 'bad crowd' in Hollywood is greeted as almost inevitable by the people back home. Joyce is left in Balsden, married to a man she chooses out of loneliness, becoming increasingly frightened yet stubbornly unseeing of her small son's own 'tendencies.'
She can barely move for the guilt she feels, for the remorse toward her son, her husband, what could have been. Joyce cleaves to the idea that she is alone because she deserves to be, because she drove everyone else away.
This is a gutsy move: in many ways Joyce is supremely unlikeable. Even as you're reading through her understanding that what she did caused all of the destruction in her life, you want to grab her by her shoulders and shake her. Her unenlightened views on homosexuality, her meddlesome nature (no matter how well intentioned), and her ability to drive away and segregate her son, whom she adores and alienates by equal measures, are enough to make you scream.
Where the novel falls down a bit is in this mire of guilt. It can become, if not tiresome, then certainly tiring. Every page is Joyce telling us what a terrible mother and wife she's been. Metaphors and language are at times a bit heavy-handed as well. The parallels between Freddy and his mother and Joyce and her son are a bit too pat, a bit too coincidental. If their stories were told and no names were given, you wouldn't know which of the two women were being described, and this takes away from the rest of the well-crafted realism.
Where the novel succeeds, beyond its exploration of the difficulties of being gay for most of the twentieth century, and especially in a small town, is in its portrayal of the very elderly. The rest of Joyce's life has whooshed by, but she's stuck in an interminable morass of days in the last home she'll ever know, where the staff care only because they are paid to, the food is terrible, and the activities are banal.
Brian Francis' Joyce is such a believable, perfectly rendered character, and her world of the nursing home is at once tragic and mundane. Joyce's is a sad, no-nonsense life, one that will break your heart but that is absolutely worth visiting.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A fantastic book by a fantastic author,
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The author spoke about the idea of shame around deaths from AIDS in the early 80's and wondered what those parents felt now, and this is the foundation for the book.
A real character piece, Joyce Sparks comes vividly to life on every page. I have heard others saying they liked her sometimes and wanted to smack her other times but I was very engrossed and was quite happy to sit back and watch the story unfold.
A great novel about acceptance and self and the things we hold on to. Highly recommended.
4.0 out of 5 stars Loved It!!,
Joyce met her husband, Charlie, at the dance pavilion one summer night. He was shy and she was lonely. They married 6 months later but a few months into the marriage Joyce began to wonder what they had in common. Joyce was still fixated on her pre-marriage friend Freddy Pender who everyone said was "fruity". However, Joyce and Charlie stayed together and had their son, John.
John was an odd boy from the beginning and when in kindergarten his teacher, Miss Robinson, approached Joyce. She pointed out that she was "concerned" because John liked to play with dolls, the kitchen set, and lined up with the girls to be chased by the boys when playing tag. Joyce does not dare tell Charlie any of this. Did Joyce ever suspect that her own son might be a homosexual? You bet she did but chose instead to keep the Curly Q Sue doll she bought him hidden from Charlie, her family and friends, only allowing John to play with her when Charlie was at work.
Joyce tried all of John's life to demand privacy and secrecy. Even from her own husband she hid his homosexuality. But in her own mind, she only focused on him being gay and never really expanded her mind about John in other ways. Admitting to anyone, even herself that John died of AIDS was an impossibility. She allowed a 4-letter word to carry so much weight.
I loved this book and read it in one sitting. All the characters were well-developed and everyone seemed "real", to be human. From her sister, Helen, to her friend, Fern and Mr. Sparrow, and to Freddy and Walter, they all had their own voice and a real uniqueness about them.
Having said all that, I was really disappointed with the ending of the book. First, I didn't expect the story to end where it did and secondly, it ended very abruptly. I felt a bit ripped off at the end, but I suppose you could always imagine in your mind your own ending. A great book overall and I would highly recommend it to anyone, as I really did love it.
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Natural Order by Brian Francis (Paperback - Aug. 7 2012)
CDN$ 19.95 CDN$ 14.40