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"Exquisite . . . These Things Happen is greater than the tactility of its descriptions and the tragicomic vivacity of its characters. This is a novel of the sort that defines generations. Weaving together the individual struggles of his various characters with profound empathy, Kramer asks the reader to consider the limitations of genial political correctness, and even the very notion of love . . . . Beauty and tragedy, adoration and resentment perch simultaneously on single sentences, and readers will be hard-pressed to resist the resultant emotional pull. If, as Wesley muses, ‘everything is practice for conversations that haven’t happened yet, with people [we’ve] yet to meet,’ then wandering the pages of Kramer’s novel may be a crucial warm-up exercise for us all. A dazzling tour de force, alternately exhilarating and devastating, and, at all turns, revelatory." — ForeWord Reviews
“Emotionally resonant . . . The humanity and love between two people thrown together by circumstance is Kramer’s triumph” — Publishers Weekly
“...a novel of almost-shocking empathy and love.” — Salon.com
"Like the two main characters it so unforgettably etches, Richard Kramer's first novel exemplifies the virtues of both youth and maturity: it manages to be both wise and wide-eyed, sage and sensitive, deeply funny and, in the end, disarmingly touching. The man behind ThirtySomething and My So-Called Life has taken his trademark qualities--the grownup's shrewdness about the way the world works and the adolescent's disarming emotional nakedness--and fashioned from them a very affecting work of fiction." — Daniel Mendelsohn
"Artful, thoughtful and extremely funny, this is a wonderful first novel about artifice and the discovery of true feeling, about the roles we play and what we choose to make of them." — Cathleen Schine
"An introspective and contemporary character study . . . Earlier in his career, Mr. Kramer worked on the acclaimed television dramas, 'My So-Called Life' and 'Thirtysomething.' From the former, he has borrowed the focus on teen angst as narrated by perceptive teens. From the latter, he has borrowed the insecurities of highly competent parents caught in the act of flogging themselves for their non-omniscience. These Things Happen is Richard Kramer’s first novel, but he is no novice. This is a well-measured and mature debut." — New York Journal of Books
"In Kramer's warmhearted and appealing novel, we get to know Wesley through his own storytelling and via chapters told in the voices of the significant people in his life. Everyone knows Wesley and his best friend, Theo, are close. After Theo is elected class president in their socially liberal private school, he comes out during his acceptance speech. Controversy and violence follow, and Wesley comes to his friend's aid. Theo has questions he wants Wesley to ask his father, a gay activist lawyer, and his father's partner, an actor and chef. Wesley's mother and stepfather also weigh in. Questions lead to more questions and, ultimately, to examinations of the essentials of life and love. Wisdom and understanding are achieved, but not from the expected sources. Kramer catches the snap of adolescent speech and the concerned tones of the adults with skill. Choppy on the surface, the novel is calm and deep as a whole. Wesley is a remarkable and well-drawn character, as are the adults in his life. Kramer's tale of coming-of-age and coming out should have wide appeal." — Booklist
A lot can happen in a day, sometimes. Not every day, of course. Most have one event, and that's if you're lucky.
Many have less, which seems especially true in our school, which is hard to get into and committed to serving the community but is also, as a rule, unthrilling. Maybe things pick up in eleventh grade, which is when Mr. Frechette, a teacher we like, says our brains have developed to the point where we can grasp irony, accept ambivalence, and acknowledge the death's head that lurks at the edge of all human endeavor. His exact words; I put them in my phone. We'll see, although I trust him. Mr. Frechette can get sour, but he's also pretty wise.
Maybe today's a preview of next year, then, because a lot has happened in it, even without the death's head. School's out. Theo and I are on our way to tae kwon do. Wherever you look, whoever and whatever you see seems glad to be a New Yorker, not just people but buildings, and pigeons, and signs. As for tae kwon do, we've been going since we were seven, and we're sixteen now, or will be. We're both excellent at it, which our gyosa Marshall says isn't bragging if you really are and can truly own it. Theo's my best friend, and always has been. He says that's just because he's the only boy in my school who's not named Max or Jake, but that's not it at all (which he knows). It's simple. He bores easily. So do I. But we don't bore each other, and that's since in utero, practically, as our moms met in Lamaze class and got to be friends. He got his name because his mom wrote a book about the loser relatives of famous artists. Theo Van Gogh was Vincent Van Gogh's brother; Mrs. Rosen, Theo's mom, pronounces the name (I quote Theo here) "like she was choking on a rugelach." Theo V.G. knew Vincent was the talented one and worked hard to make sure the world knew it, too. I admire that, and hope I would do the same, if I had a brother who was an insane depressed genius, which I don't. I'm an only child. He died, though, Theo Van Gogh, that is, chained to a wall and crazy due to the effects of syphilis, which was quite popular at the time. I asked Theo if he was worried that something like that might happen to him. "Are you being facetious?" he said. There was a time, not long ago, when we used to ask that after we pretty much said anything; we mostly just liked the word. He said he wasn't scared, especially. His mom just wanted him to sound special. But he saw my point. He always does, as I see his. And his are solid, I feel. I don't know what he thinks of mine, but one can only assume that he finds them solid, as well, because we hang out, text frequently, and dislike the same people.
Now that we're out and free I'd like to get right into the things that changed the day from ordinary to interesting. The first is that Theo was elected president of our grade, swept in on a sea of change, like Obama was, which always made me think of an ocean of dimes and nickels. I was his campaign manager and am proud to say we never went negative, although we could have against his opponent, Shannon Traube, who posted pictures of herself on Facebook giving out cookies her maid had baked to homeless guys, in boxes. Other things happened, too, historic ones, even. But even on a day like this you still need the stuff of an ordinary day, too. Maybe you need it more. So before I get into what took place as recently as lunchtime, we do what we do every day, without fail. We call it Facts. Just simple, like that. Because it's a simple thing, and one we've been doing since we were ten. We each are responsible for one Fact that the other guy wouldn't have known but would be interested in, a fact that has no other purpose than to be a) cool and b) somewhat disturbing. One might guess, and one would be right, that Nazis tend to get overrepresented, not to mention the Japanese ( prisoner-of-war camps, not the economic miracle). But you have to work with what's out there. There are certain truths that are universally acknowledged, and you're a moron if you don't know them.
"Fact," I say.
"Awesome," says Theo, which is a word frowned upon in our school, especially by Mr. Frechette. He feels it should only be applied to Balanchine, whatever that is.
"The Nazis made it illegal for Jews to buy flowers."
"Fuck." He stops walking. He has tears in his eyes, and he's not a sentimental person. "That really depresses me."
"Dude," I say, "that's mankind."
"I know. It's still fucked, though."
"I promise: nothing to do with Germany for a week. So what's your Fact?"
"It's French." We both like maps, so I'm sure, pretty much, that he's doing what I am, which is seeing Europe, the map of it, that is, picturing Germany, France touching it, Belgium and Switzerland mixed in there in chunks, as with a Ben and Jerry's flavor.
"France," I say. "Good. France isn't Germany."
"No, Wesley," says Theo, "it's not." He punches my arm. I punch his. "Fact: at Versailles, they used to shit on the stairs."
"You mean the king and everyone?"
"I think it was more friends and family."
"I like that."
"Yeah," he says. "It's good. So now that we've done historic Facts—"
"We need to get into today's."
He means his acceptance speech, given today after he won the election. I helped him write parts of it, the future pledges material, in which he promised universal health care, sustainable snacks in vending machines, and an end to the settlements (our school likes us to pretend that we're real people). Then came the part I didn't help with. Theo put down his notes. He drank some water. Then he said, "I thank you for this mandate. I shall try to lead wisely, but not annoyingly. And now, in the spirit of full disclosure and governmental transparency, I would like to share with you that not only am I your new president but I am also, to be quite frank, a gay guy."
There were a couple gasps, but people seemed okay with it, pretty much, except for Jake Krantz, who has a rage coach, and shouted, "I never would have voted for you!" And Shannon had some doubts. "You're sure that wasn't just to get the gay vote?" she asked Theo, when it was over. "You're actually, truly gay?"
"Well, in the interests of clarity," he told her, "you're looking at the gay vote. Me. Which I did get, because I voted for myself. And let me add I did what I did after I won, which you might be aware is unusual in politics. I'm just saying. So keep that in mind."
"Oh, I will," she said. "Don't worry." She laughed in a way that I think was meant to sound chilling and sophisticated but wasn't, really. Then she turned to me. "So, are you?"
"Am I what?" I asked.
"Gay," she said. "Bi. Anything."
I didn't know what to say. No one had ever asked me anything like that. I mostly get asked things like have I finished The BluestEye, or am I really planning to wear that shirt, or would I like to go to the Frick on Sunday. But to have a person ask me what I am? I dealt with the question as best I could.
"Fuck you," I said, which is more or less where we left it.
"More later," said Shannon, going into a cupcake place.
So now here we are, and all that's behind us.
"I completely want to get into all that," Theo says, "about what I did and what happened. But first I have to ask you some things, if that's cool. They're really important."
I can pretty much guess what his questions might be and, of course, I know what mine are. Why didn't he tell me ahead of time that he was going to come out in his speech today? That's one. Or, for that matter, that he was gay? But enough. He should go first. The big day is really his.
"So," I say, "you want to ask me something."
"It's easy," he says. "What are old gay guys like?"
My guess was right.
"Seeing as how I'm surrounded by them," I say then. "And by old gay guys I take it you refer, obviously, to my dad and George."
My dad's gay, but wasn't always, and George is his partner. George was an actor once, but gave that up and now owns and runs a restaurant in the theater district, in a brownstone. He and my dad own the building, and we live on the top floor. I've been there the past two months, for this school term, so my dad and I can get to know each other as men, since the belief is I might soon become one.
"Like what do they talk about, for example?" Theo asks. "What kind of things come up in gay settings?"
I think of things. It's easy. I'm a magnet, it seems, for a hundred gay paper clips, flying at me and sticking. "There's so much."
"Well," I say, "benefits are a big topic."
"Like in health care, you mean?"
It's nice, for once, to be the Expert Guy on a subject, as we're usually Expert Guy on the same things. "Benefit concerts," I say, "to raise money, for various gay things. Like marriage, say, or suicide, or trannies. They like to talk about who's going to sit at whose table. George makes a lot of charts. And there's awards dinners, too. They talk about that."
"Awards for what?"
"Their courage, pretty much," I say. "And compassion."
"Is there cash involved?"
"Just plaques, usually. There's these plastic shapes, too, that are like symbolic of something. My dad has dozens." He probably has a hundred, but I don't want to brag. I'm proud of him. He's given his life to the general gay good, and he had a late start.
"Huh," Theo says. "Interesting. What else comes to mind?"
I realize, in this time with my dad and George, that I've been listening pretty closely. " Costa Rica has been big lately," I say.
"What about it?"
"Old gay guys go there. In groups, it seems. They talk about houses, and maids. George keeps a list on the refrigerator. They do that, old gay guys. They make lists on paper. They don't put things in their phones."
Theo grabs hold of this, like a CSI guy staring at a carpet fiber. " Costa Rica," he says. "What makes it gay and Nicaragua not? That's rhetorical. I'm interested, but it can wait. So what are some other subjects?"
"Well, there's food, obviously, with George's restaurant. Old or dead actresses. And they talk about Dutch things, like how streets got their names. It seems that to be an old gay guy in New York you have to really love it and know some Dutch facts. George is big on that, anyway."
"I'm more interested in gay things than Dutch ones, though," he says. "Today, anyway. No offense."
"None taken. And marriage is a major thing they talk about, obviously," I say. That's my dad's big cause, or one of them, anyway. He's always on tv talking about it, because not only is he an impressive and persuasive guy, he's articulate and handsome, too, all the things I'm not. When marriage equality passed in New York Governor Cuomo specifically thanked my dad for all his work. The next day, people left flowers for him at the restaurant. One guy knitted him a scarf.
I think of one more thing. "And there's something called Merman."
"Merman? What is that?"
I'm not really sure, but I don't let on, as I like Theo thinking I might know things he doesn't.
"That's more a subject of George's than it is my dad's," I say. "He gets into that a lot with Lenny." Lenny is George's oldest friend. They met at theater camp, when they were eleven. He runs the restaurant with George.
"Lenny the gay guy, you mean," says Theo.
"Well, they're all gay guys," I tell him. "But to varying degrees, which you'll find out about. Same with Merman."
He looks a little worried. "It's probably a sex thing, right?"
"Gross," I say.
"Gay sex. Obviously."
"Like you know so much about it," he says.
"How much do you know?" I ask. "Have you even had sex? Like where you actually hook up with a real person and have it?"
"I really think that's my personal business." He chuckles, with a tinge of sadness that is obviously meant for me.
"So you haven't, then."
"Well," he says, "I did meet this one guy online. We chatted and stuff. He goes to NYU, to Tisch. He wanted to trade pictures? So he sent me one of him, sort of nude, but not showing his junk."
I didn't know any of this, but I try not to seem surprised. "Did you send one? Do you have pictures of your junk?"
"Well," he says, "no. I sent a picture of me as Tevye." Last year, at our school, Theo played Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. He was excellent. "I didn't hear back from him."
"But he was the only one?"
He chuckles again, in that sad-for-me style. "Oh, no."
"Anyone from our school?" I try to picture who it might be.
"I must say, Wesley," Theo says, sounding just a little bit English, "that I do think that's private."
"So you've never had sex, then."
"I didn't say that."
"You've done things? Like let guys fuck you in the ass and stuff?"
He looks worried again for a moment, looks down and lowers his voice. "The thing is?" he says. "I'm sort of a top." He sneezes. "I think. I could be wrong, though. I've never actually hooked up. Maybe I never will! I don't know. Who has time? Why would I want to hook up when I could be learning new SAT words or giving back to the community?" Our school is famous for the concept of giving back, which they start beating into our heads in third grade. "We're here," he says.
We are, at Eighty-sixth and Second, right outside tae kwon do. I'm just coming back to it, as I had to take a few weeks off. I broke a toe at 2:00 A.M. at Dad and George's, from a stubbing I endured when I woke up hungry and went in the dark to the kitchen, where there are always eleven cheeses and foreign crackers and cookies made of ground-up nuts. I said, "Fuck!" very quietly, but George heard me and got up. He didn't even say anything; he just made an ice pack and grilled half a sandwich for me in his panini press. Then we talked for a while, also very quietly. We didn't want to wake my dad.
I'm fine now, though. "We should get in there," I say to Theo. I see a muffin on the steps, with no owner in sight, sitting there like it's just enjoying the day.
"Wait," he says. "Everything you say seems to be about George, pretty much. What about your dad?"
"What about him?"
"He's an old gay guy, right? So what's he like?"
"My dad." I look at the muffin again, and realize I'm starved. "Well, he's got green eyes, like mine, and a similar chin." I touch mine. We have clefts, my dad and I; Ben, my stepdad, says we could both keep change there. "And he's a fine person, of course."
"That I know."
"Like who doesn't." Sometimes I think I could mention my dad to a cop on a horse, or the horse itself, and they'd say, Oh, yes, I admire him immensely. "And there's squash," I say. "The game, not the vegetable. He plays at the Yale Club. He might teach me, even, when he's got time."
"Did George go to Yale?"
"He didn't go to any college. He was just in shows."
"I'll have to learn all this stuff, I guess," says Theo. "Not to mention new gay stuff. Maybe your dad would talk to me."
"So can I go now, with what I want to ask you?" I hear the chant that starts tae kwon do, but I don't care. "You can probably guess what it is."
"Why didn't I tell you I was going to do all that today."
"Why didn't you tell me you were going to do that today?" I ask.
"I totally would have," he says. "Definitely. Unquestionably."
"Stop using adverbs." I've picked this up from Mr. Frechette, who is passionate on the subject of their overuse. "Just answer."
"I would have," Theo says again, and more, too, but at just that moment girls pass, the kind of girls I think of as New York girls, although they can be from anywhere. I stop listening to Theo, or hearing, anyway. They're all texting and talking and smiling at their phones, like they were better than boyfriends. The girl with the fastest fingers stops for a moment. She smiles, not at me, I'm sure, but it's a smile in my direction all the same. And suddenly, standing there, I'm not there. I know just where I am, though, where I've gone, which is to a park, in my mind, where I lie on clean, warm grass while the fast-fingered girl texts all over me, my whole body and my cock, too, little secrets everywhere. And then I hear Theo again, and come back.
"And I guess the biggest reason I didn't tell you," he says, "is that I didn't know it was going to happen. It came out on its own, one might say. Like it had been waiting, for the right event."
"So have you been gay all along, do you think?"
"Probably," he says. "I don't think it was sudden, like a hive or a nosebleed. I don't think that happens, but there might be recorded cases. There are always recorded cases of things."
"But not yours."
Excerpted from THESE THINGS HAPPEN by RICHARD KRAMER Copyright © 2012 by Richard Kramer. Excerpted by permission of Unbridled Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted December 16, 2012
Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings
A different book than what I normally read, but a girl needs a change every once in awhile! With only male characters voicing the story, two of which are a gay couple with one of their sons living with them for the semester, this an interesting family drama with a different kind of family at the center. Other male characters that are involved are two young boys who are friends and in the middle of their friendship, one comes out to the other and their entire school in quite a public way - how does this affect their friendship?
Posted April 19, 2014
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Posted September 15, 2013
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Posted December 4, 2012
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