Not Faraway Enough: a book review

My interest in Faraway came after reviewing an earlier book by Daniel Mauer, the graphic novel, Sobriety, which explored twelve steps recovery. Here Maurer lends his skill as a freelance writer to aid an old seminary friend, R.K. Kline, in telling his story. Mauer and Kline were both ministers in the ELCA (Mauer left the ministry, Kline is still a pastor today). Faraway tells the story of the openly gay, Kline coming to terms with his sexuality in his teen years. It also tells a horrfiying tale of how he was groomed and recruited into prostitution at the age of 14.

It was the 1970s when Kline first discovered his same-sex attraction. With sleepovers and an active ‘gaydar’ he began to experiment sexually with other boys. One boy from school, named Tim groomed him and introduced him to Ray, the adult with a van who would become his pimp.

Some of Kline’s experiences as a teenage hustler were enjoyable to him. Others were profoundly damaging and frightening. He found himself the victim of perversion and violence. But he also befriended two other boys, Stevie and Squirrel, who became his community and protection on the street. Kline would tell his parents he was sleeping over at a friend’s family house, and then turn tricks in the park with Stevie and Squirrel.

By the end of the summer of 1975, Squirrel was beaten violently by a police officer, nd a few weeks later died in a tragic accident. By the fall, Stevie died of alcoholism on the street. Kline is suicidal (saved only because the gun he had access to was an 1860 replica muzzle loaded pistol and it was hard to commit suicide while drunk).

This isn’t what you call a happy story and theologically I have my misgivings (I pastor in a denomination that is welcoming but not affirming of an LGBTQ lifestyle. But this is a human story. Kline struggles with the way his same-sex attraction cut himself off from the community (suburban Missouri was not exactly supportive of alternative lifestyles in the mid 1970s). As awful as it was for a fourteen-year-old to turn tricks, he finds acceptance with his fellow street hustlers. There was something broken in the lives of Stevie and Squirrel but there was also something beautiful about Kline’s friendship with them and the way he pays tribute to their lives.

This is a well written memoir. It is also graphic and disturbing. There are plenty of folks I would not recommend this book to and would issue disclaimers to those who I would. But it a real–ugly and beautiful and ultimately redemptive story. It is sad that Kline and his three friends were sexually misused in their teens. Sadder to that it still happens. I give this four stars.

Notice of material connection: I received this book from the publisher or author via SpeakEasy in exchange for my honest review.

A Sobering Comic: a book review.

Ever since I was a kid scouring the house for enough change to buy X-Men from my local convenience store I have loved graphic novels. I love books in general and believe wholeheartedly in the power of words. But when words and images combine in a storyboard, narrative comes alive. Action in still life.

Images also have the power to communicate important truths. As an adult, some of my favorite graphic novels include Spieglman’s Maus and Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers & Saints. These novels are both ‘historical,’ exploring holocaust and national tragedy (respectively).  Other Graphic-non-fiction explores politics and social activism (see for example, Joe Sacco’s Palestine). I have reviewed on my blog a few different graphic novels exploring religious themes: saints in Christian history, scripture, etc.

Sobriety: A Graphic Novel is different from the above. It too is graphic-non-fiction but its aim is therapeutic. Author Daniel Mauer is a former Lutheran minister and is an active participant in the recovery movement.  In Sobriety he combines his skill as a story teller with the art of Spencer Amundson to explore the power of the Twelve Steps.

Sobriety’s plot follows what I suspect the conversation in an Alcoholic Anonymous Meeting is like. Mauer’s characters come from diverse backgrounds. They each have their own understandings of God and spirituality and the stamp of addiction is different for each of them. Still each finds help through the twelve steps. The conversation begins after Larry the ‘old timer’ shares in a meeting how he found sobriety. From there a conversation ensues between he and Alex (a gay, Londoner atheist with a Heroin and Ecstasy addiction). Larry is also sought out by Hannah a college freshman who went from honor roll to serious addiction in her first year of college. Their circle widens to include Debby a single mom (a pill-popping-alcoholic) and Matt (a gang-banger and Meth addict). The conversation explores the significance of each of the Twelve Steps as each tries to work through their own issues and experience.

Mauer and Amundson periodically also insert themselves in the comic to visually display rock-bottom, to explore A.A’s founding or Victor Frankl’s Logotherapy. The multiple narrative makes for an interesting and engaging read and showcases the way A.A. (N.A. or other similar twelve-step-based groups) can help people work through their addiction and find the way to freedom.

I think this book has a good message. At times I wondered if addicts would find this novel a little bit  too preachy. I mean, I agree with the message and know people who have been helped through twelve-step programs, but it kind of felt in places like an overgrown Chick-tract (except it didn’t go off on an Antisemitic rant or say the pope was the Anti-Christ). But this is a general problem for all fictionalized-narratives put to didactic purposes. I think this is a good graphic novel to fet in the hands of someone getting into recovery because it covers many of the issues and questions addicts face, but it doesn’t quite reach as far as ‘great literature.’ I give it three-and-a-half stars.

Notice of material connection: I received this book free from the author or publisher via Speakeasy, in exchange for my honest review.