Title: Albert J. Sterne: Future Bright, Past Imperfect
Author: Julie Bozza
Cover image: Emrah Turudu/iStockphoto.com
Publisher: Manifold Press
Buy link: Amazon.com
Length: 236 PDF pages/61,000 words
Genre: Contemporary M/M Romance
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
A guest review by LadyM
Review summary: Wonderful addition to The Definitive Albert J. Sterne which gives us exactly what it’s title promises – a window to characters’ past and a glimpse into their future
Blurb: Three young boys on a collision course: Albert Sterne – isolated, driven and fiercely intellectual; Fletcher Ash – bright, dedicated and with a strong sense of justice; John Garrett – hurt, marginalized and determined to do to the world exactly what the world has done to him. The eleven short stories in this companion volume continue and expand on the lives of the characters from the same author’s outstandingly popular The Definitive Albert J. Sterne, which should preferably be read first.
One of the first reviews I wrote for this site was the review for Julie Bozza’s The Definitive Albert J. Sterne. So far, it’s my only 5-star review and, if this was an independent book, the review for Future Bright, Past Imperfect would have been another. However, as the blurb says, this is a companion book to the novel and the readers will not be able to fully enjoy it without reading the novel first, so that fact was taken into account. That, by no means, diminishes the excellence of writing and my enjoyment in the stories which added new layers and understanding to the familiar and, to me, beloved characters.
Future Bright, Past Imperfect consists of eleven stories set between 1952 and 1985. They describe the events before, during and shortly after the events in the novel. Some of the stories literally complement parts of the novel; the others are, more or less, independent. While they are mainly about Albert and Fletcher, one of the stories describes the youth of John Garrett.
Many of you who read the novel wanted to know more about the characters’ pasts. The stories don’t disappoint, primarily in giving us their more important, defining moments. It was illuminating and heartbreaking to read the opening story, The Rending of Cloth, in which we learn about Albert’s parents — their way of living, their mutual love and love for Albert. Albert is a unique five-year-old, something that is cherished by his parents, so it is truly touching to see him grieving their deaths and to know that, until he meets Fletcher, he would never be understood or loved again. In the story with the symbolic title Island, Albert, now sixteen years old, cuts all the ties with his remaining family, represented by Elliot, kind and pious man who want only to help him. But, Albert suppresses his yearning for human contact, intent on his future, because “I can only be honest when I’m alone”. This story also reveals the mystery of letters Albert receives from his guardian every year. The readers of the novel will recognize “the missing scene” in the story Truths in which Albert seduces Fletcher because Fletcher asked Albert to “have his wicked way” with him. It’s the encounter that rattles Albert much more than Fletcher and starts unraveling his iron-clad control.
We aren’t given the insight only in Albert’s past. It was terrifying to read about John Garrett, on the verge of adulthood, who tries to reconcile what is right with his violent desires in the story Life being what it is…. His constant questioning if his emotional reactions were “right” for given situations was especially chilling. His abusive and neglecting family makes everything that follows almost expected. It is testament to Bozza’s talent that she made me feel some sympathy for Garret even knowing what he would become. And, of course, in the story Tempest, we learn that, although his childhood and youth were quite different than Garrett’s and Albert’s because he had the loving family, Fletcher was isolated too both from his family and his hometown by his keen insight into human nature and his desire to make something more of his life. His plan to catch his first villains could have backfired in a million ways, but that too shows the readers the man that we will see in the novel – a man who understands darker corners of human soul.
The real joys of this collection, however, are those that further the story of Albert and Fletcher and introduce us to Fletcher’s family. The way they react to the fact that Fletcher and Albert are gay, how they talk about it in front of the children, how they interact with the men and each other was wonderful to read. Certainly, the word “vegetarian” will never have the same meaning for people who read these stories. The love Fletcher’s family has for him, even if they don’t understand the changes in him, comes across clearly through the pages. I particularly liked Fletcher’s father Peter, calm, intelligent man, who uncovered for us and Fletcher as well Albert’s hidden side – his ability to laugh.
This collection of stories was certainly more emotional than the novel, since it revolves more around characters’ lives than the plot about a serial killer. It has been a while since I’ve enjoyed a writer’s style so much, unobtrusive and yet clearly capable of conveying Albert’s losses, Garrett’s hatred, Fletcher’s love. The stories added the facets of their private lives successfully deepening our overall understanding of their characters. If you read The Definitive Albert J. Sterne, this collection is a must read. If you didn’t, I wholeheartedly recommend both books to you. Both the novel and the stories are great addition to this genre and the complexity of the characters alone recommend them to anyone who enjoys reading. To borrow from my fellow reviewers, run, don’t walk, to buy and read this book. And, if there is more Albert and Fletcher in the future, I will not complain. On the contrary, I will be the first in line to read their new stories.