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Posted November 20, 2010
I read the first two pages of Finlater before I decided to purchase the book. I was hooked instantly by the unique voice Shawn gave our young protagonist, Cliffy. Writing about youths in situations our narrator went through can be a delicate balance act, but I think the author did an exceptional job at keeping Cliffy a kid, even though he was smarter and more soul-wise than most boys twice his age. I'd have to agree with a reviewer who posted here before me, saying there was no one in Finlater I could truly dislike. Even the father, deadbeat, selfish prick that he was had redeeming qualities. For every mean-spirited action performed by one of the characters Shawn was quick to follow up with an example of just how human, and as such, liable to sin as the next person his characters were. Down to Frau Crites--the old German woman confined to her apartment by illness--the character's were multi-layered, believable, and heartrendingly broken in their own way. And yet they were strong too; in turns wise behind their years, and then rendered foolish by their desires. I'd warn readers of only one thing before picking up this book: If you are a fan of Happily-Ever-Afters and epilogues, you will not be satisfied with the ending of this book. Only truth lies here, and sometimes its pretty bleak and uncertain.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 31, 2008
Shawn Stewart Ruff may be a name known to only a few avid readers of short stories, but with the publication of FINLATER this gifted writer is bound to be recognized as a very important voice in American literature. Few writers are able to relate a story from a child's vantage as keenly as Ruff: echoes of such writers as JD Salinger and Colm Toibin and JG Hayes are present in this tender little love story that offers finely honed insights into the impact of racial tensions on the sociologic changes of the 1970s. It is a book that deserves wide critical attention as well as a broad readership. The title FINLATER sets the tone of the message of this little treasure: the story takes place in the projects area of Cincinnati known as Findlater, but the main character and narrator of this tale is Cliffy Douglas, an African American 13-year-old lad who has just entered the eighth grade after success in a spelling bee where his only misspelled word was the name of his home zone he has always heard pronounced as 'Finlater'. Cliffy's home life is rocky - his brothers are raucous, early sexually developed (and active) trouble makers and his mother labors to feed her family which now includes the returned father figure who spends most of his time drinking and lounging in his bikini underwear. Life is not wholesome, but Cliffy's devotion to his mother holds him together. As Cliffy begins his school year he is seated by a young Jewish lad, Noah Baumgarten, and as the story slowly unwinds we discover the differences and similarities between these two new friends. The spectrum in which each lives covers the racial tension in the neighborhoods as the bonded pair are referred to as Oreos, or more maliciously as Nigger and Jew. And it is this disparity of home life and background that makes each boy envy the status of the other - Cliffy wants to become a Jew and have a caring father and mother like Noah's and Noah longs to be a Soul Brother. Together they explore the limits of their environment of discord as well as the territory of their developing bodies and sexuality. In time their respective families meet (or rather collide) and the boys discover the secrets of each other's family members, with special attention focused on the fathers whose personal problems have shaped each boy's life. Out of this puzzling quagmire of family developments Cliffy and Noah plan an escape from it all, an escape that will allow them to live their young passionate love life without the gloom of their pasts. But can they find that path? That is where Ruff leaves the reader, hoping for a happy ending for these two wonderful kids, but without a map except the pathway to the heart these two unforgettable characters have carved in this story. FINLATER explores same sex attraction in boys as they enter puberty as well as any author who has approached this subject. But Shawn Stewart Ruff writes with such restraint and eloquence that his characters never lose balance on the tight wire of racial, social, and color tensions they tread. In Cliffy's mother's words, 'One last thing. The only thing you should be ashamed of is the fact that you are ashamed. We don't choose our families or our families' situations. Hopefully you'll do better in your life than I have. You'll have a big house, a fancy car, and a family you choose to have.' And such is the manner in which Ruff approaches the entire story. This is as fine a coming of age book as you'll likely find on the shelves, and Shawn Stewart Ruff is a major new voice in American literature. This is one of those books that cannot be recommended highly enough! Even the unique presentation quality of the book by QUOTE Editions is remarkably excellent. Grady HarpWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 16, 2010
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Posted February 16, 2010
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