Dream Boy by Jim Grimsley

Genre: Fiction

Year of publication: 1995

Rating: ♥♥♥½

Summary: A short novel about a boy in the rural south who has been sexually abused by his father. Nathan’s family has been forced to move several times because of the rumors, and they have recently settled in a new home. Nathan hopes that this time his father will leave him alone and they will not have to move again. Meanwhile, he falls in love with the boy next door, Roy. The two share a tender but fragile affection, made tenuous by Roy’s need to hide their relationship, and Nathan’s trauma. When his dad tries to abuse him again, Nathan escapes into the woods on a camping trip with Roy and two of Roy’s friends, knowing that one way or another, he will never come back.

Thoughts: The “dream” in the title is descriptive of the writing style. Sometimes it’s hard to discern what is reality and what isn’t. This dream-like quality might reflect Nathan’s way of coping with the darkness and violence in his life — which is considerable. Yet despite all the bad things that happen, his gentle spirit and ability to love seem intact.

I don’t know what the future might hold for the characters. Is Roy really “out” — even to himself? Can Nathan ever really heal? Roy mentions that they “go up north,” but what will they do? Are they old enough to get jobs? Will they be on the street? The story ends on a happy, but uncertain note.

I think the theme of religion as inadequate comfort, or as a false front, is quite strong. Nathan’s dad is always reading the Bible, especially when he’s thinking about doing bad things. Roy hides his homosexuality through his relationship with his church girlfriend. Nathan sings hymns a few times at places in the story that seem to highlight their ineffectiveness. Even in the opening scene, everyone is using the mask or vehicle of religion to hide their true thoughts and desires. I don’t know what this “means” or “represents,” if anything, but I found it interesting. Maybe that self-reliance and self-truth is the source of strength, rather than an outside power.

Kirith Kirin by Jim Grimsley

Genre: Fantasy

Year of Publication: 2000

Rating: ♥♥

Summary: In a fantasy world with flavors of The Lord of the Rings, The Mists of Avalon, and the Crystal Cave a boy named Jessex finds himself chosen to serve an immortal exiled king, Kirith Kirin, in the magic forest of Arthen. In the first ½ of the book, Jessex secretly learns magic from the mysterious Ladies of the Lake and falls in love with Kirith Kirin; there’s also a lot of exposition. In the second ½, there’s a lot of marching, a few battles, several magical fights with an evil wizard, a century of sleep, and a rather anti-climactic finish.

Thoughts: This book was loooong. It also showcases some of (what I think are) the worst mistakes in fantasy writing. It’s full of ridiculously unpronounceable names, spends waaaay too much time world-building, tells and tells and tells and rarely shows, and takes itself far too seriously. I did finish it, however, which means it wasn’t entirely unreadable (but I confess to a certain amount of skimming).

As for the main couple: For most of the book, Jessex is 15 and Kirith Kirin is an unknown age; but since he’s immortal, he’s at least hundreds, if not thousands of years old. Creepy. They also hardly spend any time together, and their interactions are sparingly described.

The book features many potentially strong supporting characters, but they are like rough sketches — never filled in or given much color — so it’s hard to care about any of them. Even Jessex, despite his progression from boy to powerful witch, has a basically flat personality. In all, the novel reads like a promising but adolescent first attempt at writing.