THE RITES OF PAS­SAGE

Jonathan A. Tay­lor, Arnoland Press (SEPTEM­BER) Soft­cover (462pp), 978-0-9995336-3-5

Foreword Reviews - - Spotlight | Debut Fiction - CON­STANCE AU­GUSTA A. ZABER

Jonathan A. Tay­lor’s The Rites of Pas­sage is mar­keted as the first in a se­ries of nov­els; it also ably stands on its own. The story fol­lows Jamie Gold­berg from el­e­men­tary school to col­lege, as he grows from an abused boy into a self-pos­sessed young man. His life is a symphony of pain, hu­mor, filth, and beauty as he strug­gles to come to terms with his iden­tity in ho­mo­pho­bic Amer­ica.

Jamie’s mother is pre­oc­cu­pied with her po­lit­i­cal work; his fa­ther is more in­ter­ested in sports than in him. They leave Jamie on his own. Un­sure of what his same-sex de­sires mean, Jamie al­ter­nates be­tween ob­scur­ing them be­hind his love for Wag­ner and at­tempt­ing to “cure” him­self through rit­u­al­ized sex­ual abuse. In col­lege, he dis­cov­ers strange new worlds, alien to his work­ing-class Jewish life back home. The fu­ture sud­denly has po­ten­tial.

For all the vi­o­lence in the novel, the story also in­cludes mo­ments of joy and hope, as well as sharp one-lin­ers. Such mo­ments grace­fully bring Jamie’s story out of the ho­mo­pho­bic trope of LGBTQ char­ac­ters who are de­fined by their Christ­like suf­fer­ing. In­stead, Jamie’s suf­fer­ing is con­tex­tu­al­ized within the very real ques­tions of what it’s like to grow up marginal­ized and the ways in which such op­pres­sion be­comes in­ter­nal­ized.

The novel is un­flinch­ing in con­demn­ing its overt big­ots and well-mean­ing lib­er­als, whose tol­er­ance is only ex­tended as far as their own com­fort will al­low. Jamie’s mother, a white Jewish wo­man and a cru­sader for the civil rights move­ment, is at once lauded for her pol­i­tics and taken to task for plac­ing her son in phys­i­cal and emo­tional harm. Such com­plex­i­ties, in their will­ing­ness to un­der­stand the world and its un­com­fort­able truths, are the hall­mark of Tay­lor’s writ­ing.

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