Adam Thorn is having one of the worst days of his life. It’s also the day the queen and her faun rise from a lake and examine the life of the woman who died in her waters…
The queen and the faun is only a short story, entwined very loosely with Adam’s awful day. So why is it there? I saw some places where it mirrors Adam’s day: The desolate spaces that some people call “home”, filled only with anger and sadness. Dialogue that echoes between them.
But they are minor interactions, and really, the whole stream-of-consciousness tale could have been dropped with no loss whatsoever. The characters of the queen and the faun are also entirely two dimensional. The faun only exists to repeat “My queen” and to fix the damage she causes as she wanders the town where Adam lives.
So, the queen and the faun can be dismissed easily. What else is going on here?
In the course of his day, Adam finds his friendships changing, his brother dropping a bombshell, he’s fired, and he comes out of a relationship and into to a new one. There are fires lit on this day that won’t be extinguished for years to come.
As usual with Ness, his dialogue crackles with wit and humour. There’s a vibrancy and a life to his characters that’s a delight to read…apart from Adam that is, which we’ll get to in a minute.
Did I mention Adam was gay? Because to me, the least interesting thing anyone can tell me is their sexuality. I don’t give a hoot about where and what Adam snuggles against. Whatever helps get you through this tough old world.
Surprisingly, Ness doesn’t make much attempt to make Adam beyond a stereotype. He’d rather watch the Oscars over football. He’s dreamy rather than aggressive. Therefore, he must be gay. His boyfriend is a ballroom dancer – but at least that one is pointed out.
His parents are a stereotype as well: Angry and bigoted Christians who can’t move past man-woman sexuality, and a father who tries to pray the evil spirits out of him. There are glimpses of a real person under his puritanical preaching, but it’s not developed.
Ness doesn’t seem to be able to move past Adam’s sexuality either. I don’t mean in terms of homophobia, but in terms of character. Adam’s only characterisation is in reference to his sexuality. We only see him as he reacts to other people’s perceptions of it.
It’s like he runs down a checklist. I am with my (checks list) family; therefore I am (checks second list) angry. I am with my (Checks list) boyfriend; therefore I am (checks second list) horny.
In one scene, Adam and his old boyfriend park at a spot and look at a mountain. We’re never told if Adam finds the mountain beautiful or the view boring, whether he looks at it as something he wants to climb or with the eyes of a geologist. His only response is how he should react to the boy next to him.
Part of this is Adam’s insecurity, but the pattern repeats with everyone he meets. We never see Adam alone, to find out what’s going on internally. We see him drive places, but we don’t find out if he’s a careful driver; we don’t see what flavour pizza he likes. The small things that would have defined his internal world are missing.
There are a few exceptions to this, and they are heart breaking to read. Adam’s intense loneliness and fears for his future shine through in those few brief passages. The sex scenes, seen in silhouette as appropriate for a mature YA read, are sensual and passionate. There’s a wondrous sense of intimacy, of watching the simplest thing in the world: Two people falling in love and expressing it in the most fundamental way they can.
Overall, Ness is better than this, and this book should have been four or five stars. I needed to see Adam more as he really was, to feel the raw nerve endings that make him flinch. I needed to see more to truly care about this young man terrified of walking into the world alone.