Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Review: Fall Into the Sun
Fall Into the Sun by Val Kovalin
Bobby and Alejo first met when they were six years old, after a Sunday mass at the church both their families went to on a regular basis. Both grew up in Albuquerque, both are of Hispanic origin, but that’s about all they have in common. Alejo’s parents owned a Mexican restaurant, they were among the pillars of their Catholic parish. The Sandoval children were raised to traditional middle-class values; Alejo’s older sisters married and had families of their own, and Alejo got into the family business when his father became ill. Bobby had three older brothers, all good-for-nothings like their father who died in prison when Bobby was fourteen; their mother worked two jobs, drank a lot and mostly left her children to their own devices, except for making them go to church on Sundays as long as they’d listen to her.
Still, Bobby and Alejo were best friends all through high school, fell in love with each other and even shared their first sexual experience with each other. But while Bobby was able to embrace his identity as a gay man pretty much from the beginning, despite the fact that his brothers’ violent homophobia posed a very real physical threat to him, Alejo had a much harder time coming to terms with his feelings for another man.
At eighteen, they split up over a vicious fight, and although Bobby wasn’t entirely without blame, it was mostly Alejo’s fault that their lives drifted apart. Bobby went to Houston, became a criminal defense lawyer and finally went into a relationship with another man. Alejo married, fathered twins and took over the family restaurant.
Over the course of the next two two decades or so, their lives touched several times, but they never found back to their former closeness, even though they reestablished a friendship-with-benefits after Bobby’s relationship broke up and Alejo got divorced.
Now, at forty, and after a traumatic event that changed his view of life, Bobby is back in Albuquerque and determined to try and make a change. Question is, are Alejo’s feelings for him strong enough so Bobby will be able to win Alejo over? Or is Alejo still too caught up in family ties and social expectations to give them a real chance?
The reader meets Bobby and Alejo at this critical point in their relationship and walks with them through the following week, learning about their history together and about past events through flashbacks. This narrative style worked for me, although, by its nature, it made for some gaps in the story I’d have dearly wished to see logically filled, particularly with Bobby’s transition from standing beaten up and penniless in a bad corner of Albuquerque to living in his own apartment in Houston. (not to mention his dogs Tank and Killer – dog lover that I am, I’d have loved to see more of them!)
The narrative alternates between Bobby’s and Alejo’s viewpoints, as do the retrospective parts, so we get to know both characters pretty well. I haven’t read many books with Hispanic characters yet, but for all I know, their characterizations rang true to me. Both were, in a way, firmly rooted in their respective traditions that were based mostly upon Catholicism and a strong sense of family.
Bobby’s familys’ hot-blooded machismo led his brothers to making bad choices that cost two of them their lives and landed the third in deep trouble, but it also fueled the stubborn intent with which Bobby went about his goals. Alejo was all about honor and duty and doing the right thing, which in a way, made him prone to be guilt-tripped into things. (By the way, Carlos, Alejo’s son, was a first-class selfish, immature whiner. I found him the best-drawn secondary character, although I thought him a bit too juvenile even for a lovesick eighteen year old. Well, and I hated him.)
But Alejo was also able to look at things differently, which made him considerate to Bobby and eventually, towards his own needs and dreams. I came to like both guys, even though I could’ve smacked Alejo once or twice for how he stood in his own way. I enjoyed watching them grow up with – and despite – each other, and grow together.
The Brokeback Mountain motive is evident in this story; in fact, the movie is referred to several times. Bobby even exploited it as part of his strategy to win Alejo over for good. However, I think this is anything but fanfiction; I’d rather call it a homage.
Still, the Brokeback Mountain movie scene didn’t work too well for me, as I’m generally not a fan of detailed citations and references in books. Viewed impartially, this scene forwarded the plot and fit the narrative, though, so this is probably only me and mostly a matter of taste.
All in all, I found Fall Into The Sun a well-thought-out tale about coming to realize what counts in life, and a romantic, emotional and very enjoyable read. Recommended.
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