Monday, April 25, 2011

Nathaniel by Jan Irving


You and your son have the saddest eyes.

Young cowboy Happy Nathaniel is struck by a need to reach out when he first meets Aaron King and his son, Samuel, so he helps Aaron find a haven at the Rocking M, far away from their strict Mennonite community. Once Sam is settled in the country school, both men seek something to spur him to speak again. But most of all, Nate also sees Aaron’s loneliness, and a single kiss is the spark Nate has secretly craved. But he’ll put his attraction on hold as long as needed, knowing there is a time for all things and that, one day, Aaron will want to dance again.

A spin-off of Luke and Sylvan

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For a mixing of oil and water cultures story, this combined a lot more like coffee and cream, with a big spoonful of sugar.

Aaron, for a man who has spent his life in a plain community, apparently splintered from the Mennonites, seems a bit technologically backwards, not sheltered from the world. He plows behind a horse not as the only way he knows, but as a choice. Finding porn on the internet seems to be one of his other tech accomplishments. For someone with a heavy duty religious background, it all seems very far away, as if he shed a lot of thoughts when he left the community.

His eight year old son Samuel, who is mute by choice, is Aaron's reason for leaving the community, he says. The boy, who recently lost his mother, has refused to speak since then. Samuel carries his own burdens, but after the initial scenes from his POV, he's much more of a supporting player. There is a big change for him, but it comes out of the blue, not out of any real development.

Nate, Happy Nathaniel, the out and proud cowboy who would like to change the sadness on father and son's faces, is the only truly vivid character here -- he'll pick a child out of a ditch without offering stupid advice, he'll dance if he's happy, and he finds the newcomer to the modern world intensely attractive.

This is good, because Aaron comes flying out of the closet with an intensity that only startles one of them. No introspection about it -- Aaron displays the sort of single mindedness  -- See! Want! Grab! Mine! normally associated with the less cerebral varieties of shapeshifters. He needs some coaching on technique, but there is no question in his mind of rightness, strangeness, if, maybe not, or frankly of anything short of the logistics of getting Nate moved in with him and his son. Hate to say it, but this wastes a lot of potential, and Aaron comes across as half a character. He doesn't question anything, least of all his own motives, because really, is the best thing for a recently orphaned, traumatized child taking him away from every single stable, familiar thing in his life?

The one working hardest to make this a story is Nate. I wish he'd gotten some help, because this could have been really good.



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