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During the Mackinaw Trip, I read THE BOYS OF EIGHTH AND CARPENTER, by Tom Mendicino.

And I wished I hadn't.

NOTE: There will be some fairly major spoilers in this review.

Michael (the younger brother) and Frankie (the older brother) grow up together under the lash of an abusive father who runs a barber shop in South Philly.  They're born in the sixties (so they're my age), and we follow them through childhood 70s, teen 80s, new adults 90s, and adult 00s.  Frankie is gay and never quite escapes the barber shop.  After Papa dies, he converts the dying shop into an upscale beauty salon (but of course).  Michael becomes a DA, obsessed with a particular case in which the killer's sentence is commuted from execution to mere life in prison.  And then, one day, Frankie's current boyfriend disappears, and Michael finds the body stuffed in Frankie's freezer.  What's a brother to do?


Really, the book was just awful.  Don't read it.  I was mad that I stuck with it as long as I did.

The novel jerks the reader back and forth through time. One moment we're in the present, watching Frankie nervously thread his way through a hair styling show just after the murder.  The next we shoot back to the distant past to learn all about Papa's boyhood in Italy (complete with a history of his family and young Papa's love affair with a red wagon).  Then we bolt back to the present, in Michael's point of view so he can find the body.  Then we're yanked back to the past, to get details of Papa as a young married man, and then the birth of the brothers, and their childhoods, and so on.

The problem is, the only indicators we get of time are the chapter headers: FRANKIE 1972 or MICHAEL 1990.  We leap around so much, we can't figure where and when we are.

The book is also bleak and nasty.  Papa is a four-time widower, and his wives are killed off for no reason that advance the plot.  South Philly is always described as a grungy, dull, garbage-filled ghetto (at one point, Frankie has to stop to peel trash off his shoes).

No one in this book is EVER happy.  Frankie is the subject of relentless physical, psychological, and sexual abuse from his father, from a childhood friend, from a creepy priest, from two long-term boyfriends, from his father's family (because he's gay), from the boys at school.  This we could handle if there were any joy in Frankie's life as well.  But there is none.  Frankie has not one single happy moment in the entire novel.  Even opening the hair salon comes about because his unfaithful boyfriend dies and leaves him some life insurance money.  You might think that Frankie would be happy once the salon becomes successful, but he isn't.  Instead, he stresses over being TOO busy and how hard it is to keep his conservative and liberal clients separated.  His life is always awful.

Michael is described as much the same.  He marries a woman he loves and has a son he is close to, so you would think he has SOME happiness in his life.  But never once is any happiness described.  Instead, we get a dull, continual awfulness of political receptions, and how angry he is about that murderer not being executed, and how he can't sleep at night, and how he doesn't like any of Frankie's boyfriends, and on and on and on.  No happiness.  After a while, you ask, "Why am I subjecting myself to this?"

The author also summarizes his own story.  We get these tidy little capules of life events that read like back cover copy.  The chapter about Michael's surprise birthday party (in which Michael "nearly wet himself" instead of being happy) epitomizes the author's inability to show us what's going on.  He gives a quick, choppy summary, then wrenches the reader around to a nonsensical ending, where we find a drunken MIchael passed out under a tree with his head in Frankie's lap.  Major life events, such as Frankie realizing that he's gay or Michael having his first sexual experience or Frankie getting an actual boyfriend or Michael getting his first job, are summarized in a paragraph or skipped entirely.

In fact, most of the chapters make no sense.  They don't reveal much in the way of character, and they certainly don't advance the plot (such as it is).  It's a dull, meandering, depressing piece that could have been wonderful in the hands of a competent writer.

It's too bad.  I was looking forward to a good read with a gay character. 

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