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Posted October 7, 2003
A Summer in the Zoo
Paul Russell, as we are coming to realize, is an author who is well beyond genre novels. True, he demonstrates a sincere and deep understanding of the gender epiphany that accompanies the approach to puberty - the spectrum of fear, self-loathing, fantasy, desire, confusion and transcendence that weave in and out of every person who comes to grips with sexual preference. In short, he writes with great dignity and grace about 'coming out' whether that be in the parcels of memory of older men or in the active and onstage reality of young lads. As in his highly successful novel THE COMING STORM, Russell explores community/family/bonding in a story of people who fear home either as a loss or as an escape. 'Home' as goal is intrinsically part of this story and it is because of that aspect that, while the story is one of gay men in a Redneck dislocation, that makes it universal. And it all is distilled into the events a one summer. Cameron Barnes 'escapes' the choke of Manhattan in moving to Stone Hollow in upstate New York, leaving behind the memories of a love lost to AIDS, and starting life over with a new love that gradually dissolves into transcience. Yet in the meantime (recovering from brushes with death from his own AIDS) he has establishes himself as a fine landscape architect, encourages friends from New York to move to his Arcadia, and begins an encounter with a pair of homespun brothers whom he hires for a summer's work only to discover that the Redneck attitude of the town extends to their mentality. Cameron's past introduction to love is revealed through gently drawn flashbacks and thoughts and it is the slow discovery of similarities that results in his aligning with one of the brothers in a journey towards the younger's (Jesse's) self discovery. The words Russsell employs are never squandered: The title of the book, WAR WITH THE ANIMALS, refers not only to Cameron's struggle in the smalltown mentality of homophobia, but also with the demons of his virus, his past experiences and his present challenges. Russell sublety divides the book into sections: 'Et in Arcadia Ego' (and into paradise I go), 'The Chaos Garden' ( a descriptor of his work project and his landscape), 'Gethsemane' (or agony in the garden before Christ's betrayal), and 'Under the Shadow'. These subtitles suggest the delicacy of Russell's prose and style. Technically, Russell draws characters that are not only three dimensional, but who, like all humans, have polarities of good and evil that round out their personalites. No one is thoroughly hateful despite some of their atrocious behaviors, and no one is without character flaws no matter how sincere they attempt to pretend. WAR AGAINST THE ANIMALS (note: this is not entitled war 'with' the animals) is a highly successful book, one that has much to say about how we choose to lead our lives and the choices we make being mindful of the consequences. Cameron's summer results in a leaping change in the lives of nearly everyone we have met in this story. It is a brave book, a well-conceived story, and an entertaining read. Paul Russell has kept his promise as to his talent potential. I wait for the next novel!
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Posted April 4, 2004
Like watching a runaway train
I discovered Paul Russell quite by accident and am certainly glad that I did. This is one of the best, most well written books I've read in a long time. I recommend it to everyone--heterosexual, homosexual, or undecided. As a heterosexual woman, I absolutely loved this book from beginning to end and hated to see it end. I am also happy to know that Russell has other works out there that I can now discover.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 16, 2004
Another Great Book from Russell
Like The Coming Storm, I absolutely loved this book. Russell has a way of making his characters believeable. This is a great read...A different kind of coming-out story where you can relate to both the young man who is unsure of himself, as well as the protaganist, who has been around the block a few times.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.