Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Vintage: A Ghost Story

by Steve Berman

In Steve's words: A lonely gay teen bides his time with trips to strangers' funerals and Ouija board sessions, desperately searching for someone to love - and a reason to live following a suicide attempt.

Walking an empty stretch of highway on an autumn night, he meets a strange and beautiful boy who looks like he stepped out of a dream. But he quickly learns that love is not a simple thing, not as portrayed in movies and daydreams.

Besides the cool factor of Vintage being a gay ghost story, Steve is donating 1/5 of the royalties from this book to charities that help gay teens, including the GSA Network and The Trevor Project - how amazing is that?

Add your review of this book in "comments!"


Anonymous said...

When I first saw this book advertised, I was desperate to get a copy. Three things sold me on it, the first one being its genre, which is horror, specifically ghost fiction. I’ve always been - and always will be - a diehard fan of ghost stories. Now throw that in the mix with queer YA fiction, and I’m putty in anyone’s hands.

Considering the rich literary heritage of ghost fiction (M.R. James and a number of Victorian writers, for instance), I’m always disappointed with the fact that it doesn’t get as much attention (dare I say respect?) as other subcategories of horror. I mean, look at the more popular themes: shapeshifters and vampires. Rarely ever ghosts, which is a shame, given all the metaphors/allusions/allegories/whathaveyou that can be made in the stories of both the unquiet dead and the living. And queer ghost stories? Don’t get me started.

Vintage seamlessly weaves the traditions of ghost fiction with a mini-bildungsroman while keeping to a classic form of queer YA fiction, which is the “problem novel.” Most of the kids in the novel are goths, and regardless of the characters’ sexuality, alienation (on different levels) is an overriding theme. Living and dead, everyone seems to be isolated from each other and the world, and regardless of the frequency of their interaction and the closeness of their relationships, there’s still some kind of pervading loneliness among them. It could be the setting muscling its way into my reading, I suppose, because almost everything’s cloaked in shadows, with much of the action taking place at night. Lonely roads, big houses, cemeteries, murky vintage stores (again, packed from top to bottom with relics that come with their own brand of ghosts, if one were to look at them through the eyes of history), or even a boy’s ordinary bedroom - these are classic elements that create the right atmosphere for hauntings.

Time also becomes elastic. The dead and the living move in and out of each other’s worlds every time, and we’re given glimpses of the past when the narrator (who remains unnamed in the novel) becomes an unwilling conduit between the two worlds.

Berman’s handling of queer teen (or even just plain teen) issues is delicate and sympathetic. Even the “bad guys” (for lack of a better term) such as Kim and Liz are reacting to specific problems of their own that turn them into bitchy, unreasonable types. The descriptions are nicely detailed without going overboard. The cemeteries (both in the day and especially at night), the vintage store, the different houses where hauntings take place, and the dance club are vividly drawn. The hauntings themselves are perhaps the scenes that are most alive. Ghost fiction being an old literary tradition, there’s certainly a danger of resorting to cliché in describing hauntings, but I didn’t see that in Vintage.

Berman makes use of almost all senses in describing them - the narrator smells death, he hears it, he touches it, he sees it - so much so that these scenes turn almost organic, and even if one were to say “Oh, I’ve seen that in The Sixth Sense,” they still pack enough of a punch to catch you off-guard. And the specific hauntings? Seriously creepy. Have I mentioned how much I love ghost stories?

The story is multi-layered, so much so that parallels can be drawn between subplots, with the ending of the novel being a satisfyingly realistic one. For all the extremes with regard to the characters’ private demons and, in the case of the narrator, his emancipation (which happens on several levels), there’s still that lesson in temperance, and it’s quite a mature lesson at that.

Now if only there were more queer ghost stories out there.

DecaturNC said...

I enjoyed this book becasue it was well written and I liked the characters that were created in the story. And I am a sap for a good love story.

Liz/moth said...

I want you to go out and buy this book.

Yes, you. All of you. Well, OK, you can put it on your Christmas wish list, then at least somebody has to buy it. Why? Well...

One fifth of the author’s royalties are donated to the Gay-Straight Alliance Network, a youth-led organisation that connects school based alliances with each other and community resources, and to the Trevor Project, which aims to promote acceptance of gay and questioning teenagers and aid in suicide prevention. But whilst these are worthy, I suppose you could just donate to them so they aren’t the main reason for buying the book.

The author has been depressed at the lack of sales - I blame the marketing department. I think it ought to be on the best-seller lists alongside The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, and Lovely Bones. In a contest with Vernon God Little it would win hands down. Steve deserves to know he’s appreciated. But that’s not the main reason.

The main reason is that this book is fabulous (in the dictionary, rather than the slang meaning of the word), and it got under my skin. I want it to get under yours too.

It’s a romance. A gay romance. Tender, funny, sad, sweet, uplifting. Perfectly suitable for younger readers as it isn’t sexually explicit though the emotion is quite raw. The narrator has to choose between two unsuitable suitors. One is a ghost and really quite dangerous. The other is the very under-age brother of his best friend. No, I’m not telling you. Go read.

It’s a ghost story. Very real, very frightening, very unusual. I wasn’t able to read it after dark. It would make a fantastic film. Be warned. Younger readers will enjoy ‘frightening themselves silly’.

It’s a story about teenagers and growing up. The writer has got right inside their heads, with all their quirks and worries and sub-adult certainties. He has addressed serious issues about families, suicide, drugs, sexuality, friendship, homophobia and peer group pressure. The tone is never didactic. The reader is presented with the lives of a very well realised group of teens in small-town America and left to draw their own conclusions. I liked the way it moved from ghosts to maths grades and from fashion angst to a condemnation of pop-tarts. I enjoyed knowing that an Everley Brothers track enjoyed by some of the ghosts (and current adults in the story) is from my own ‘era’ and is considered out of the ark by the narrator. I particularly liked the way the adults, even the sympathetic ones, were never quite aware of all that was going on under their noses. I could recommend it as one of those books teens are encouraged to read to stimulate discussion, but I’d rather they just enjoyed it for its own sake.

It’s a beautifully written book, with a subtle command of language that draws the reader effortlessly into the strange world inhabited by the ‘hero’ and yet can turn equally well to current ‘slang’ and awkward teenage conversation.

The basic plot has a gay teenager try to commit suicide, leave a homophobic family and drop out of school. He ends up living with an aunt who might not know why he has left home. He realises he can see and communicate with ghosts. He is as virginal at the end of the book as he was at the start but has gained a lot of confidence and experience, plus a happy home and a boyfriend. Despite the ‘horror’ element, this is a positive and upbeat story.

Have I ‘sold ‘ it to you? I really, really hope so.