Whoops! Sorry about that. I got sidetracked by a vacation in Costa Rica and never finished my list of the top books read in 2014. I’m back with #’s 2 & 3, which come from an international, best-selling author, and a debut, indie novelist respectively. These books couldn’t be more different, really, and I’ve jockeyed back and forth on their positioning, yet while Houck’s novel is more consistently great, Mitchell’s novel has more stumbles, but reaches higher, so it manages to eke out the #2 spot.
#3 – Yield by Lee Houck
Yield really took me by surprise. When I read the jacket copy and found out that the novel revolved around a young hustler in Manhattan, I inwardly groaned. It felt slightly cliched, and oh-so 80’s gay fiction, but I gave it a try. I quickly noticed the quality of the writing, and the care and (yes, I’ll say it) authenticity that permeated this novel. Not a tale of disaffected youth cutting off the world around him, but a coming-of-age story, in the best meaning of that phrase, where a young man slowly opens himself to life and all the joys and pain that comes with it.
Simon does indeed work as a part-time hustler in Manhattan, but he also files medical reports at St. Vincent’s hospital, which is the job that actually leaves physical scars, the endless series of paper cuts along his fingers. The hustling leaves scars as well, although not the type you can see. More like scar tissue, increasingly dulling Simon’s ability to feel and even experience living. When one of his close circle of friends is beaten in a violent gay bashing, Simon is shaken, and when he starts to fall for the hot guy who lives across the street from him, a door deep inside of him that was securely locked, starts to open.
Lee Houck has created a beautiful voice with Simon. He’s emotionally reserved, and frankly, terrified of his own capacity to feel, but there is nothing cliche about Yield, in fact the journey Simon takes is universal and ageless. It’s nice to read a book like this every once in a while, to remind you how rewarding fiction can truly be.
#2 – The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
David Mitchell hit the big time with his book, Cloud Atlas, and his latest tome, The Bone Clocks is the follow-up. It’s a big sprawling novel that begins in the early 80’s and unspools all the way to the mid-21st Century and the collapse of modern technology to a dystopian future. The Bone Clocks chronicles the war between two factions of immortals, benevolent psychics who are continually reincarnated, and spiritual vampires who casually take the souls of innocents to extend their lives in perpetuity. Central to this story is Holly Sykes, who starts the tale as a teenage runaway, and ends as hardened matriarch who helps to save humanity… just to see the technological infrastructure collapse. It’s a new age, science fiction epic that’s great fun to read, most notably for the moments in between the crazy stuff. And this is where Mitchell excels. The novel cycles through a handful of narrators, each telling their part of the story, while our central character, Holly Sykes, treads through all of them. I loved the small, individual details of the lives of each of these narrators that Mitchell carefully and lovingly reveals as time marches inexorably on. It’s also fun to start the novel in the past, albeit the recent past of the 1980’s, and jump a decade or so ahead with each narrator, ending up in the middle of the 21st century. For such a sprawling epic, Mitchell does a masterful job keeping things personal. Some of the more fantastical elements come across a little hokey, but all in all it works well. And despite its heft, it moves right along providing hours of entertainment.