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Set in Savannah, Georgia, during the tumultuous Kennedy years, King of Angels explores the role of Southern Jews in the still-segregated South, the explosive race relations and racial consciousness of this era, and the emergence of a genuine gay community with its own honest, outsider viewpoint. It is also a realistic story of the underground world of boys who must fool their parents and each other in order to achieve any form of unguarded closeness. As a "half-Jew" attending Holy Nativity, a Catholic military school in Savannah, Benjy also becomes aware of many forms of seduction and attraction: the seductions of a secret sexual life in the school, the seductions of his own heart taken with a handsome Puerto Rican male student, and the attractions of the Spirit in all of its revealed forms. This is a novel about the genesis of identity and belief itself, in a questioning heart and questioning time, while growing up in the changing South in the early 1960s.
Posted October 25, 2013
King of Angels
by Perry Brass
reviewed by Mick Mykola Dementiuk
A Saintly Who Done It
A Jewish boy, Benjamin ‘Benjy” Rothberg is growing up in Savannah, Georgia with his father Robby/Leon, and his non-Jewish Episcopalian mother Caroline, who sits around drinking too many gin and grapefruit Salty Dogs with her girlfriends. Robby/Leon is a salesman and works mostly out of town, while Caroline stays taking care of the house with a black maid on the side, such as women used to do in those years. Every time Caroline drives over to pick Benjy up from school the car radio is always blasting some Beatles song on the car radio as she happily sings along. She loves the music of the era, makes her feel young and alive, Benjy is always embarrassed. The time is the early 1960s and JFK is president just before he was assassinated. In the novel Benjy is starting to learn about life and eventually his homosexuality. What can a thirteen growing boy do but get a little ass, that is, suck a little cock and have his own sucked off, too?
Learn to be a man, as his father Robby stresses, so Benjy is sent to a Catholic school where he befriends Tim, an Irish lad who comes from a large boisterous family and Arthur, a good looking Puerto Rican boy from a very poor family with a drunken father who takes it out on his son, Arthur. There are many other boisterous dangerous boys in the school but it seems that Benjy is pulled to these two. He follows Arthur sneakily home one evening and gets lost, wandering into a bar (at the time ‘gay’ bars were still unheard of) with shady characters sitting around and drinking cheap beer. One drinker smiles lasciviously at Benjy but does take the time to show him where Arthur is staying; a poor worthless Puerto Rican dump and Benjy is very embarrassed but goes go in after his friend. In surprise Arthur is stunned to see his classmate but the Puerto Rican boy’s father comes in and asks crude questions of the visitor.
Still, Benjy has to undergo a bar mitzvah according to Jewish tradition and he asks Father Alexis, one of his teachers to guide him since the priest had taken courses in Judaism, and in surprise Father Alexis agrees to teach him. When suddenly on the last day at the retreat he went to the beautiful Puerto Rican boy Arthur is missing. The police find his body drowned in the lake when suddenly Benjy also learns that his father is being accused by his employer of embezzlement. Faced with two disasters at one time, Benjy is devastated, plus a few other boys are suspected by the police in having a hand in Arthur’s demise. It all comes boiling down to a fitting satisfying conclusion. A beautiful Southern drama and one of little boys intermixed with the depravity of the time, the bustling confusing era of change with growing older parents and superiors. One night Benjy returns to Father Alexis for more bar mitzvah training but he smells alcohol on Father Alexis’ breath, he doesn’t feel odd when the priest kisses the top of his head yet he still is forced to leave, a bit confused. Why did the priest kiss him Benjy wants to know, was that part of some ritual but he does suspect the priest was after something more and it wasn’t Benjy’s friendship.
The cops close the case of dead boy Arthur since there is nothing there but Benjy is determined to find out for himself about what really happened by putting a stake-out at a little used library bathroom that he’s certain th
Posted December 30, 2012
This is Perry Brass's most ambitious novel to date—and it is an amazing feast for both the mind and the ear: Brass's language is like music, it's incantational. The easiest thing to say about "King of Angels" is that it is the gay "Catcher in the Rye" mixed with "To Kill a Mockingbird," set in 1963 (the Mad Men era) in Savannah, GA, the setting of "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," and KING OF ANGELS is actually a better book than "Midnight." It is the coming of age story of 12-year-old Benjy Rothberg, the son of a handsome, smart, dark-skinned Jewish father and a gracious, very truthful blonde Southern WASP-beauty mother. Benjy is sent to Holy Nativity Military School to "become a man," where he encounters horrible bullying and meets a beautiful Puerto Rican cadet who steals his heart. It is a mystery story, a suspense story, and a gay coming of age story, with a great setting and wonderful characters. Read it for yourself.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.