Thus begins After River, a novel I read in 2008, several months before I started writing this blog. After I finished reading it, I remember thinking I wished I had a way of bringing it to the attention of other readers, because I feared it would get lost in the relentless release of new books.
For the record, I dislike recommending books because I don't know your taste as a reader. I could tell you something is fantastic, create unrealistic expectations, and you could end up not only being disappointed, but question my taste as well.
So, let me use a little reverse psychology here: I don't recommend this book, but here's why I think you should know about it:
1. For my readers in British Columbia, the Canadian province where I live, the writer of After River is Donna Milner, a sixty-five-year-old, former real estate agent, who lives outside of Williams Lake. In other words, Milner is a local writer, and I think we should support local writers to the extent we can, as long as we like their work. I like Milner's work.
2. I don't want to give away too much about the story, but you should know there are gay male characters in it. The preamble on the inside of the dust jacket doesn't state this, but it gives some sense of what happens. It says, in part:
"Everything changes one hot July afternoon in 1966 when a long-haired stranger walks up the winding dirt road to their door. The arrival of this soft-spoken Vietnam War resister sets catastrophic events in motion that will leave relationships shattered and Natalie [the protagonist] separated in unimaginable ways from the family she loves."
3. What struck me about the novel is the sensitivity with which Milner handles the gay storyline. I thought either she had firsthand knowledge of what it's like to be gay (perhaps she has a close relative, even a son, who is), or she is one perceptive writer. Whatever the case, the gay characters are treated with the utmost respect and dignity, and that isn't always the case in written material.
I fear Milner's novel didn't receive enough attention after it was released, particularly from the LGBTQ community. I could be wrong, but I don't recall ever seeing it on the bookshelves at Little Sisters, the gay and lesbian emporium in downtown Vancouver. And this is a shame because they sell plenty of crap. Milner's novel isn't crap. It's possibly one of the best books I've read with a gay storyline. It offers a beautiful portrayal of gay love, with no salaciousness whatsoever, and it will break your heart to learn what happens to the characters.
To pique your curiosity further, here's another quote:
"I stood frozen. The scene in front of me, the rumpled bed, the clothes strewn on the floor, River's canvas duffel bag in the corner, his guitar case leaning against the wall, I took it all in. But it made no sense. The relief of finding River there conflicted with the truth of what I was seeing. I heard Boyer's voice groan, 'Oh, God, Natalie.'"
Interested? I hope so.
Update: So this past Monday, April 25th, Chris and I found ourselves unexpectedly in downtown Vancouver. We were supposed to spend the day in Victoria, on Vancouver Island, but we missed the nine o'clock ferry by seven cars and didn't wait until eleven o'clock for the next departure. So we decided to drive into Vancouver instead.
Among the places we visited was Little Sisters, located on Davie Street. To my surprise, and delight, I found a copy of Milner's book on their bookshelves--a single copy, mind you, and not in the section I expected. It was in the lesbian fiction section.
I don't have a problem with it's categorization there, and I understand because the writer is female and the story concerns a female protagonist, it might be assumed women would be more interested in reading it than men.
But this means most gay men probably wouldn't consider After River, and that's a shame. After all, the gay story line concerns two men, not two women. And, as I wrote previously, Milner does a beautiful job of presenting this storyline, which is a significant part of the novel.
Don't be misled by the book's cover or where it's placed in a bookstore. Milner's story is universal and deserves attention from both sexes.