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Stray Paperback – February 15, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Short story writer Joseph's first novel begins with a weekend tryst in Florida in which barely-out-of-college Paul Foster wants his lover, Kent McKutcheon (who is nearly a decade older and married), to acknowledge his feelings and homosexuality. Kent, however, is annoyed with Paul for pressuring him and with himself for his infidelity. The feelings fester as, back in Atlanta where both men live, Paul returns to his cancer-stricken former professor and jealous sugar daddy, Bernard Falk, while Kent goes home to his saintlike Mennonite public defender wife, Maggie. Kent and Paul continue their affair, and Paul, wanting to get closer to Kent, befriends Maggie. After an awkward dinner for three at Kent and Maggie's, Kent, furious with Paul, reveals their relationship to Bernard, which provokes a violent confrontation between Paul and Bernard. The next day, Bernard is found murdered and Paul is the main suspect. Maggie, who has an inexplicable crush on Paul, takes him on as a client. Unfortunately, the murder mystery plot lacks urgency, and Joseph's portrayal of homosexuality hinges on the bedroom, while homophobes—cops, especially—rarely rise above stereotype. The aftermath of the imploding love triangle may surprise. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Resurrecting characters from her previous work, Bear Me Safely Over (2002), Joseph tells an intense story about an unconventional love triangle. Kent had his heart broken by the hard-partying Paul and has since married Maggie, a gentle Mennonite with a strong sense of social justice. He tells himself that Paul never loved him, that Maggie makes him a better man, that he is not gay. Then he runs into Paul by chance at the library, and they resume their love affair, though this time it is complicated by Kent's overwhelming need for secrecy. But when Kent fears that his need for Paul will destroy him, he breaks it off. Paul, however, determines to insinuate himself into the couple's life, first through Maggie's volunteer work, then through his need for her legal expertise when he is charged with the murder of the older man who has been supporting him. What starts as a slow-paced, angst-ridden emotional journey turns into a swiftly moving, much more compelling tale of reconciliation and redemption as the lovers are forced to face their flawed perceptions head-on. Joanne Wilkinson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top customer reviews
In brief, "Stray" tells the story of a love triangle, between a married couple in their early 30's, and the husband's 21 year old former male lover. Paul re-enters Kent's life after an absence of three years, creating a spark between them that soon has Kent sneaking away from Maggie (who is a busy attorney working as a public defender) to spend time with him, although he still makes it clear to Paul that their relationship is over and nothing can become of their trysts. Paul would like to put it behind him as well, but he never stopped loving Kent, and hoping for some kind of miracle that would bring them back together.
Desperate to find out more about his "competition", Paul worms his way into their lives, by befriending Maggie and volunteering to help at the thrift store she operates for her Mennonite church. Maggie invites him home with her to "meet" Kent, who immediately fears that Paul will reveal their earlier and extramarital affair, but Paul simply wants to be a part of both of their lives. When Paul is arrested, following the unexplained murder of his former roommate and benefactor, whom he met as his college acting professor, Maggie jumps in to defend him against the charge, eventually providing him with a place to live, courtesy of her church. As is clearly inevitable, Maggie finally manages to connect the dots and finds out the truth about Paul's relationship with Kent, which puts the forgiving nature of her church's teachings to the ultimate test.
Some novel twists and turns shade this as significantly more interesting than the typical "love triangle" story. Lots of peripheral characters who don't seem to have a role at first, and would have liked to have seen it at least 50-75 pages shorter. But a great, captivating read for a long vacation during these hot summer days. Four stars out of five.
STRAY falls into that category, too. Not a work for the ages, perhaps, and certainly, the gay/straight/bisexual plot has its moments of predictable twists and turns that sometimes are strictly melodrama in place of art. But there is an honesty and a tenderness in the writing, even in its most violent passages, that overrides the somewhat purple plot points and carries this novel forward. Ms. Joseph really can write, and write very well, and even when you sort of know what's going to happen, there is a passion to her writing, almost a breakneck speed that propels the reader through more than 400 pages, hating to put the book down. I was never sure how this would end, and I teared up when it did, sorry that it was over, and wanting to send a copy to a friend.
That makes it a pretty special book.