It was just bad luck that I ended up reading this at the same time I was listening to Brothers of the Wild North Sea. The two books, despite being different genres and different time periods, deal with the same themes: enemies to lovers, a man of the cloth struggling with his faith and church, a wild man learning a new way to live his life. One of these books is successful at exploring these complex themes, the other...not so much.
Brothers of the Wild North Sea is like the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Mark of Cain is like a finger painting by a three-year old. Brothers of the Wild North Sea is like eating freshly ripe strawberries dipped in cream on a breezy, mild summer day. Mark of Cain is like an ice cream sandwich that's been out of the freezer too long. You know it'll still taste the same, but the texture's all wrong and the sandwich part sticks to your fingers and it's just not as satisfying as it could've been.
But anyway, enough with the unfair comparisons! Let's talk about the Mark of Cain!
A man struggling with his faith and church - There were good bones here. I did find most of Mark's storyline here to be superficial at best, but I did like how it highlighted the struggle that many fundamental churches have when trying to move forward with the times. They can talk the talk, but they trip and stumble when they try to walk the walk. Unfortunately, much of the meat of this was pushed to the back burner because of the Twu Wuv taking center stage halfway through. *sigh*
I mostly liked Mark. Except when he was being an ass. He loves his church but slowly comes to realize how much of himself he's given up for it and that it doesn't love him back. This could have been really intense, but in the end there wasn't all that much depth to these sections and they're breezed over for the Tru Wuv.
An excon trying to make amends and be better - I really liked Lucas. His story here is sad. Yes, he killed a guy, but he spent his stint in prison doing what he could to become a better person, one who doesn't drink too much and doesn't get into pointless bar fights because he's bored with his life. He was only 19 when this stupid thing happened, and it'll haunt him the rest of his life. When he's released, he tries to hold onto what the therapist taught him, but his friends are determined to pull him back into his old ways. And his friends are, for the most part, caricatures with no real nuance of their own, the exception of Sean.
Between Mark and Lucas, his actions made the most sense throughout the book and I was most interested to see where his story would go.
So what happens when these two "enemies" get together?
Well...not much. First, Lucas is placed in the half-way house that Mark supervises because his parole officer is terrible at his job - and despite Lucas's case being very high profile, to the point that random strangers know who Lucas is and what he did, none of the other ex-cons in this place have any clue about the connection between Mark and Lucas. Or maybe they do, but we just don't get to see it because we never actually meet any of the other guys in the house except when they're needed to play bit parts. But since even Lucas is unaware of this connection, I can only assume the other guys in the house don't know either. Yeah. Suuuure they don't.
Anyway, that ridiculous coinkydink aside, Mark's a jerk to Lucas, and he's completely unprofessional with his job. Like, on so many levels. And Lucas just takes everything that's thrown at him - from Mark and every other random person - because he knows he deserves it.
And then this thing happens with Alex, a teen boy that Mark is counseling at the church. Alex starts off as a character in his own right, and he's a mirror to Mark. Mark is constrained, careful. Alex is bold and upfront. And of course he's got the big crush on Lucas. But turns out his character is mostly just a bridge to Mark and Lucas burying the hatchet and forming a friendship of sorts, because Alex needed help and they're both willing to help him. Which is all great! I was ready to see where this went!
But then it kind of fizzles out. Alex fades into the background for awhile and Mark pretty much ignores him because of Tru Wuv. *sigh*
In the end, I needed a lot more time spent with these two as hesitant acquaintances/quasi-friends before they jumped into bed together. Years worth. Not just months, which are really more like a couple of weeks once they really start spending time together. The moment they started lusting is the moment this book became just another M/M Romance (™) and stopped being anything interesting. I just couldn't buy it. I was pretty much yelling (in my head) at Mark "Dude, he killed your brother, what are you doing?!" every other page. And I like Lucas! But seriously. He killed your brother. WHAT ARE YOU DOING!
We meet Will in chapter two when he takes Mark to a bar to unwind after the news that Lucas got released on early parole. Will and Mark seem like good friends, so he should have shown up again at any point in this story to help out Mark or be a sounding board for him when his life was falling apart, but it's like Sherwood forgot this character even existed.
I thought we'd see a lot more of Mark's parents, since such a big deal was made over how upset they were about Lucas's release, but they're barely mentioned at all in the first half of the book, and we never even actually meet his dad. And his mom...okay, I'm going to keep this rant super short, but I really resent that Mark's mom was made to look like a villain at the end. This poor woman has lost everything, and to try to make her the mustache-twirling bad guy just felt disingenuous. Was that there to allow the reader to feel better about Mark being with Lucas? If so, that is beyond the pale. She has every right to be upset and want nothing to do with Lucas, and I frankly have to agree with her that Mark wasn't making wise decisions at this point.
There's also this weird subplot with Lucas's friend Sean towards the end that doesn't really go anywhere. Was this supposed to be a series at one point and she changed her mind? That's the only reason it makes sense to include all this stuff that really just takes time away from other things that should be getting more focus.
Anyway, there's good stuff here, good bones, but a lot of it felt haphazard and didn't go as in depth with the material as I wanted it to. This could have been glorious
but ended up just being kind of frumpy.
(Sorry, Chuck.) :D
I found this book through a slightly unusual route. I was reading "Fire Touched" an urban fantasy book and there was a description of the books on the desk of the Marrok, leader of the North American werewolves. Sherwood Anderson was one of the authors he was reading.
My ignorance of classic American Literature is boundless, so I'd never heard of Sherwood Anderson. The idea of a new classic book appealed to me so I picked up Anderson's most famous work, "Winesburg, Ohio".
"Winesburg, Ohio" is a series of linked short stories about the residents of Winesburg. It was published in 1919, the same year as Virginia Woolf's "Night and Day" and P.G. Wodehouse's "My Man Jeeves" yet it reads as if it had been written a century earlier.
The premise of "Winesburg, Ohio" is very similar to Elizabeth Strout's "Anything Is Possible": each story builds on a central cast of characters and their influence on each other's fate is revealed.
The writing is very different. "Anything Is Possible" paints deeply nuanced, intense portraits of the personal landscapes of individuals who know each other."Winesburg, Ohio" feels like a set of sketches drawn with stubs of pencil, full of energy but rudely formed.
The writing is long-winded, self-consciously portentous and consistently remains at a distance from the minds of the protagonists.
At first, I thought I might be seeing a sort of text-version of Fauvism - all the passion with none of the form.
As I read on I put that idea aside and saw the book as a poorly constructed rant against the people in small-town Ohio, who the author sees a being driven insane by truths that have turned sour by being held on to too tightly. The author's voice is so all persuasive that his agenda and passions shine more brightly than any of the characters in the book.
To me, this book can serve only two purposes: as an historical artefact to show how far the American Novel has evolved, or as an instrument of torture to be used to turn Highschool kids off the idea of reading to themselves.
I can imagine essays being written about the emergence of post-rural America and the shifts in mores as small towns forsake their frontier history and try to embrace the modern. It's all there but it's not all good.
It seems to me that Sherwood Anderson is a polemicist with no real talent for storytelling.
This is a great example of a book that is a classic because it's a hundred years old and has been kept in print by the school curriculum long after it has lost any popular appeal.
This series has been kind of a mixed bag. I really liked that the focus was on those living in poverty and struggling to make ends meet, and that it was more people of color than your average M/M. However, I also felt that too often the couple got together way too quickly. That happens again here, with Trey and Seb. Trey's been kind of a mystery for the series since he's been mostly on the fringes of the other books. Seb is completely new. He's supposedly a law student but not particularly well-spoken in tense situations. Hopefully, he stays away from trial law. ;)
Mostly, I liked Seb and how he was able to self-assess and realize how easy his life has been once he has his eyes opened by Trey and the others. Seb grew up in a well-to-do family, with supportive parents and sister, a cousin who's also his best friend, and never having to worry about where his next meal will come from. He took it all for granted until he realizes how much harder life is without any of that stuff. And then he stands by his newfound convictions despite everyone else being worried about his safety and future.
What was kind of weird was the extremely weak sauce D/s dynamic between Seb and Trey. On the one hand, I extremely dislike D/s so I was glad that it wasn't a big part of the story and that it was pretty mild, because the little bit that was there left me cold. On the other hand, I'm not sure why it was there at all. There was already a lot going on to examine power dynamics with the class difference between Seb and Trey, so adding this wasn't really needed. So yeah, weird.
The conflict between Seb and Trey was predictable as hell and was resolved rather predictably also. But I liked that the main conflict that carried over from the previous book was handled realistically in terms of the fallout for the neighborhood. And the epilogue from Dodger's POV was cute!
Since Micah has spent most of the previous two books in a constant drug haze, it was nice to get to know him once he's free of the drugs. He's smart and philosophical, and he's realistic about his situation and the people he hurt with his drug habit. He knows he's got to keep working the program, even the parts that seem silly to him, and he doesn't get defensive when he's called out for veering off the rules. He knows he's got a lot of bridges to rebuild and relationships to mention, especially with his found family who he betrayed in the previous book. So getting know the real him was great.
I also liked that he was just miraculously clean after a stint in rehab. He's still tempted, and he's aware of his triggers and his pitfalls. Being idle is bad for him, so when his fellow rehab friend Austin gets his brother to offer Micah a job, he jumps at it.
Jake, Austin's brother, is a down-to-earth guy trying to grow his landscaping business, but he also has to take care of his younger brother, whose recovery is not going as well as Micah's. And with all his issues with Austin, I really couldn't buy it that he'd jump so quickly into a relationship with Micah. Yes, he questions the wisdom of it several times, and this is one of the few times the mid-book breakup actually makes sense. And even though this relationship develops over a few weeks, as opposed to the first two books which were both over a handful of days, this felt more rushed somehow. Maybe because I didn't really feel the connection, because I kept wondering why Jake, or even Micah, would risk a relationship at this point in their lives, and Austin's just another complication.
Really, this is a massive spoiler. You've been warned.
And I kind of felt that killing Austin off was just a little too "easy" for getting rid of that complication. Obviously, not easy emotionally for the characters, but easy narratively for the author.
I'm not sure what to make of the gentrification plot that's introduced here and which will be resolved somehow in the next book, which makes this kind of a cliffhanger. I guess I'll wait and see that resolution before deciding on it - though reading the blurb for the next book, I can already guess where that's going to go.
The three little snippets or interludes at the end were more like teasers for the next book than anything else, fun to read but not necessary.
Oh, and no way is that African violet surviving. They're way too picky and finicky to grow under the best of circumstances.