Flamingo

NapSizeGenericTitle: Flamingo
Author: Sarah Black
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Cover Artist: Anne Cain
Genre: contemporary m/m romance
Length: Short story (42 pdf pages)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 rating stars

A Guest Review by Feliz

Summary Review: This was a russian doll of a story; for each layer I removed I found an even more beautiful one inside.

The Blurb: Gentle and shy, William has lived life on the sidelines. Solitude and his tiny bookshop have been a safe haven, and he’s watched New York evolve from Stonewall to the gay marriage bill. At 61, he falls in love with Tommy, a young veteran going to school on the GI Bill. William doesn’t believe Tommy could possibly care for him, and he begins to fear that Tommy and his troubled roommate Marley are setting him up for a heartbreaking fall. When Tommy disappears, William has to risk leaving his safe haven and walking into danger, maybe into betrayal, to save the boy he loves.

The Review:  On the outside, we have the story of William, who once took a stand for a cause when he tried to join the army. But he was rejected for being gay, which led to him losing his home. In keeping with the motto “once bitten, twice shy” William made sure ever since that he never again got involved, be it with a cause or a person. Until he meets Tommy, a man almost forty years his junior. Tommy is a student whose GI Bill barely pulls him through, even with a part-time job and a shared apartment. The two have established a  physical relationship, keeping up appearances through a ritual which allows for William to slip Tommy a little bit of money every time the young man shares his bed.

Again on the outside this might sound as if William needed to buy Tommy’s favors, but there’s more to their relationship than that. Tommy is William’s kindred spirit in every which way down to their mutual love for real books made of paper, and even though both men acknowledge the almost insurmountable age difference between them, they also share real affection and pleasure. And William not only sponsors Tommy financially, he also nourishes the younger man’s spirit with literature and supports Tommy’s dreams of becoming a writer.

Tommy tries to tell William how he feels, but he’s not much of a talker. Besides, even though outwardly indulging Tommy, William can’t really fathom what the much younger man could possibly see in him other than a comfortable shelter when things get tight. So Tommy writes a story for William, and it’s the written words that eventually reach Williams desponded heart. So much so that William, when he has reason to believe that Tommy is in real danger, in spite of any lingering doubts takes the leap of faith. He girds up his loins and, armed with an umbrella, a windbreaker and a box of takeout food, sets out on a mission to rescue his lover.

Flamingo is a  story within a story within a story, beautifully, almost lyrically written, quiet and conveying a feeling of intimate tenderness for the characters. (The title refers to the story at Flamingo’s innermost core, which is a legend of two lovers, separated by death, who reunite in a different incarnation.) There is wisdom in this story, and yes, ridicule too, for William knows how fleeting the good things in life can be. But there’s also hope and optimism, brought on by Tommy’s unbroken vitality and joie de vivre which eventually brings both men to enjoy their time together, how long or how short it may turn out to be.

As multi-layered as the story in itself were the messages it transported. In the foreground it said that love doesn’t know any boundaries, it hits where it choses, regardless of age. But it also says that love is a risk, and that it might be worse to never take a risk than doing it and losing. Even more can be read into the story Tommy wrote for William (which,  btw,  was just as beautiful as the coating).

I found this story poignant, heartwarming and simply lovable. Warmly recommended.

Author

Aside from owls, I love all kinds of birds, particularly the odd ones. Also dogs, Queen (the band), motorbikes and books.

9 comments

  • I reluctantly concede that I had problems with this one too…….it felt overloaded with some fairly weighty stuff and for me was too short to cope. I love your imagery of the Russian doll but where you found depth in the layered construction I really needed more length as well to balance it out.

    I agree with Sirius that I couldn’t really find the humour here, but your phrase ” wisdom of fools” is one I’ll be thinking about when I reread this book.

    Thanks Feliz.

    Reply
    • Sarah Black has a way with words that I can totally sink into her worlds and her stories. I can’t name it exactly, but it happens every time I read something by her and I love it. Had it here, too; and while some elements of this story (like that rescue mission part) didn’t do much for me, I didn’t mind that because of the rest…

      Reply
  • I really love Sarah black’s writing too, unfortunately this is the first story that did not work for me as well as her many others. I mean she did basically impossible – she sold me on the age difference which usually for me means that I woulda think completely ridiculous and unbelievable. I saw as you said that Tony was Williams’s kindred spirit and I thought it was sweet and a little melancholic, trust me that’s not how I would usually think of sixty year old and twenty year old in bed. On the other hand, for me there was just not enough. I never complain about the length of this writer’s works, only because I want to read more, but I would never say that I felt like the length prevented me from knowing about the characters all that I wanted to know. Here I felt that I needed more to be sold completely, I wanted to see more of them together. That is why probably story within the story irritated me. I know that it was meant to be symbolic, but I felt it was wasting a page space and wanted more of real William and Tony, who were sweet together indeed. But probably I was the most surprised when I read on author’s blog that she thought of her story as comedy. I have no idea what in the story was supposed to cause comedic effect and when I can’t figure it out, it annoys me. I mean everybody interprets story differently and I don’t have to follow author’s intent of course, but I was really puzzled when I read it. Sorry for the rambling Feliz, you know I like to do that and thanks for the great review.

    Reply
    • No worries about rambling, Sirius 😀
      I think she meant William’s rescue mission to be comical – and indeed it was in a way, some cross between Miss Marple and Louis de Funes. However, the comical bordered on melancholic ridicule here, and it was rather the wisdom of fools thing than the slapstick it was probably intended to be.
      Yes, it’s short, and I’m with you here, I’d have loved more page time with William and Tommy, although I was also completely satisfied with their HFN which, at least as fa as I’m concerned, hinted well at the most of a HEA such a couple could possibly expect.
      BTW; there was a famous historical gay couple who met when one was 16 and the other about 40 I think. I’ll dust off my google-fu and get back to you once I remember their names.

      Reply
      • Hi Feliz – oh you are probably right and the mission was intended to be comical. I was just trying to say that I was not laughing while I was reading the story – smiled couple of times but that was it, so when I read “comedy” I was wondering where I was expected to laugh, you know? I also want to clarify that I was completely satisfied with their ending too, I wanted more to precede the ending if that makes sense – to be even more convinced that they belong together. I need a lot of convincing here. I think the couple were actors? I may have read about them too. Do not get me wrong – I know exceptions happen, but to me exceptions only confirm my conviction about couples with huge age difference – just my personal thing of course. Thanks again.

        Reply
      • I think this might have been Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy who met when Isherwood was 48 and Bachardy 18. They stayed together, with some interruptions for other affairs, until Isherwood’s death at age 81

        Reply
  • I love Sarah Black’s writing – Marathon Cowboys is a comfort read for me. I am looking forward to reading this story.

    Reply
    • Hi Merrian,
      this one is special, very different from Marathon Cowboys but still very much Sarah Black. I love her writing, too.

      Reply

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