The Publisher Blurb:
Christmas, 1983: A young man, Robert, tends to his soul mate, Keith, who is dying from AIDS. Robert tries valiantly to make this a special Christmas for his lover, but loses the fight late Christmas night.
Christmas, 2007: Robert ventures out late Christmas night and finds a young girl about to fling herself into the unforgiving waters of Lake Michigan. He rescues her, and the two form a bond forged from an odd feeling they share of familiarity, and even love. Neither understands it, since Jess is a lesbian and Robert has never been attracted to women. But there’s more…Jess begins having strange dreams, reliving key moments she couldn’t know about in Keith and Robert’s life and courtship. Robert and Jess begin to wonder if their inexplicable feelings might be rooted in something much more mystical than a savior/victim relationship.
As the two move toward and pull away from each other, Ethan, Robert’s younger lover, plots the unthinkable. His crystal meth-addled mind becomes convinced there’s only one way to save himself, and that is through Robert’s destruction. Christmas 2007 spirals downward to a shattering climax in which both love and lives hang in the balance.
I mentioned to somebody that I had just finished reading an ebook entitled Orientation, and the first thing they said to me was ‘oh, it’s a story about coming out?’ Ironically, had I not read the blurb to begin with, I think I would have thought the exact same thing.
‘Orientation’ in this case really isn’t about a person’s sexuality, but more of how they seem to be oriented towards others and their surroundings. Robert feels like a loner after Keith’s death, but finds himself being drawn towards Jess who resembles his departed love in many different ways. Jess, in turn, is drawn to Robert for the kindness that he shows her in her time of need, as well as for some other reason that she can’t put her finger on. Robert’s live-in boytoy Ethan is being pulled in two directions; towards the life he wants and then also to the drug that is tearing him apart. Even the supporting characters find themselves orienting and reorienting themselves to their world, their needs and their hopes: drug dealers want to live a clean life, lovers decide they want fresh starts and so forth. So the ‘orientation’ here isn’t so much about figuring out what you are sexually, but more of who you are as a person and what you need from your world.
This work is something of a departure for author Reed, who is best known for his work in the horror genre, but by no means does this novel come across as being written by somebody out of their depth. I remember reading Stephen King’s Bag Of Bones, which is something of a ghostly love story and being entirely riveted by the strength of the writing, even though it was not King’s norm. The same can be said here for Reed’s writing. There is a lyrical feel to the writing, and I found myself very easily being pulled through the story. Smart dialogue is punctuated by brilliant descriptions and internal thoughts. There is never a time where you aren’t sure where the characters stand. The characters are likable, approachable and even the ones that may not be the heroes can still garner much sympathy from the reader.
Reed is able to tackle a few hot topics here without ever coming across as preachy or controversial. The fluidity of sexuality is one such topic, with a gay character being drawn to a lesbian and vice-versa, but deftly showing how that doesn’t have to be a sexual attraction. Ethan’s struggles with crystal meth is depicted in a positively heart-breaking manner, that feels so real and so vivid that I found myself cringing in spots, tearing up in others and feeling entirely sympathetic as Ethan found himself dragged deeper and deeper into the abyss of addiction. Reed never makes his characters tell Ethan he’s a bad person, but instead shows that love can come in many an odd form.
So is Jess the reincarnation of Robert’s love Keith? Well, in my opinion, this is probably the weakest of the plotlines in the story. The coincidences seem a bit forced and a little bit trite, and may leave you eye-rolling in spots, such as when Jess faints after seeing a picture that reinforces a dream she had. The reincarnation idea never really resolves itself in a satisfactory manner, and really becomes too much of a backseat idea to the rest of the story. You’ll have pretty much forgotten about it halfway through.
The last chapter of the book is a very disappointing conclusion to the story, that I feel was finely resolved in the next-to-last chapter. I’m not a big fan of the “and here’s what happened after the events of the main story” kind of conclusions, and this one definitely falls into that category. There are also some story endings in the last chapter that are a little too convenient and take some of the punch away from the rest of the work. From an editing standpoint, the last chapter could be dropped and you’d still have an incredible read.
The Bottom Line:
Absolutely a don’t-miss read. Fans of films such as Crash and other stories where characters are drawn together under seemingly unlikely circumstances will gobble this story up. The incredibly well-written prose is coupled with dynamic characters who are three-dimensional, vivid, engaging and interesting. A weak wrap-up chapter does take a bit away from the novel’s power, but overall this is an amazing snapshot of pain, love, fall from grace and redemption among a small group of people doing their best to survive the sadness and terrors of everyday living. This is not so much a ghost story or horror story as a love story with a sense of mysticism about it. A thoroughly enjoyable read.
Orientation by Rick R. Reed can be purchased directly from the publisher, Ambur Allure, in five different electronic formats. The title is also available from most ebookstores.