Keith Banner is a refreshingly idiosyncratic writer; his prose is swift and unencumbered; it pulls the reader in like strange music. The Life I Lead
is Banner's debut novel; it's the story of David Brewer, a pedophile who is trying to be a normal guy, but who cannot keep away from the swimming pool where the beautiful young boys congregate. He thinks he is in love with one particular boy, Nathan, and he pursues him, offers him ice cream, and takes him to the Motel 6. Dave is a churchgoing family man--he believes God is out there--but he cannot help thinking that God will forgive him, because his desire feels so unmistakable and true, like a blessing or a form of destiny.
The novel's momentum comes from Dave's struggle with temptation. He dreams of succumbing to his love of boys, but he is so afraid of his desires he needs to drink screwdrivers in his car at lunchtime. In church one night, they show an antigay video with images of National Association of Man-Boy Love members in a parade. Dave imagines himself at home among those men: "Marching down the street in Anderson, Indiana, me some naked freak smiling like a crocodile, whooping it up, holding a boy's hand.... and yet I knew it was all over and we were, all of us, being marched off to wherever freaks like us are made to go." After the film, church members discuss the perverts in outraged voices, and Dave sits among them, nodding in agreement. He acts the part of the moral man but he knows it is a bluff. He is an interloper in the acceptable world.
The Life I Lead is burdened by a glaring point-of-view problem. Although it is clearly Dave's story, Banner shifts between narrators. Each chapter belongs to a different character, but the voice itself changes very little. The novel's murmuring poetry remains hypnotically constant, and as a result the reader comes away with the odd impression that Dave's perspective is universal. One wonders why Banner would so deliberately break down the barriers between characters in a novel about disconnection and isolation; why he would undermine the narrative of loneliness with the illusion of a common language. --Emily White
From Publishers Weekly
Small-town America, or at least Anderson, Ind., comes across as a hotbed of ignorant fundamentalism and pedophilia in Banner's intense but unconvincing first novel. The protagonist, David Brewer, is a meter reader, a job that allows him time to agonize over his predilection for little boys, and then to act on his predatory fantasies. Lately, he is obsessed with seven-year-old Nathan Marcum. Dave is all the scarier for perfecting his disguise as a mild-mannered, churchgoing family man. He's married to Tara, and has an infant daughter, Brittany. No one knows that in 1972, when Dave himself was six, he was molested by his teenage babysitter, Troy Wetzel; it is a ritual Dave is now helplessly repeating. In an implausible twist, Dave thinks about confessing his behavior to Reverend Lewis, the pastor of his fundamentalist church, but Lewis is predictably and violently homophobic. Dave starts to break down when his father, whose physical abuse created constant fear during Dave's childhood, is taken to a nursing facility after an operation for cancer. Coincidentally, Troy is now working in the nursing home. David's inability to cope with this emotional overload leads to his final, desperate assault on Nathan. Elements of Banner's story are searingly honest, especially David's frequent internal monologues documenting his struggle to avoid becoming the very monster who victimized him. But the many small-town, small-minded characters are flat, and burdened with inconsistent and stereotypical "hick" voices. David and Troy, however, both speak in a strange combination of unlikely self-awareness and dramatized, pokey ignorance; neither of these styles, meant to express the denial/awareness split in the pedophiles' psyches, ease the novel out from its tortured center.
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