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.