Title: Safe as Houses
Author: Alex Jeffers
Cover Artist: N/A
Publisher: Lethe Press
Length:320 pages, 129000 words
Amazon: Buy Link Safe as Houses
Genre: Contemporary Gay Fiction
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
A guest review by Sirius
Summary: I had to persevere through the beginning of the story, but really enjoyed the rest of this wonderful book about families we are born into and families we make.
When Allen Pasztory discovered he was likely to die before his time, he realized that what he could pass down to the people he loved was stories. Stories of and for his families – the family he was born to and the family he stumbled upon and fiercely embraced.
The hearing child of parents raised in the inhumane surroundings of a state school for the deaf, all along Allen knew he and his family were different. His sister tried her best to become ordinary, as if it were possible, but Allen knew better. He would be ready to offer sanctuary when an ordinary family cast out his nephew Kit.
Allen fell for freelance artist Jeremy’s talent and looks, but it was Jeremy’s unanticipated bravery that supported them through the years while they nurtured their new family. Despite hostility from without and threat from within, they created a secure and loving home for Jeremy’s precocious son Toby and, later, Allen’s nephew.
But safety can’t be guaranteed. Ill, Allen must tell himself stories to survive, stories that may explain his life to the boys he’s raised, for “your life is never only your own story, and what you don’t know for sure you must invent, using all the clues you can gather.”
I really enjoyed Abode of Bliss: Ten Stories for Adam by this writer (reviewed here) and wanted to read something else by him. When I went hunting for his other books, I discovered that unfortunately (or fortunately, because he may have had more time to devote to each story :)) he seems to have not written that many long works. I purchased Safe as Houses almost immediately, but only was in the mood to read it very recently and decided that I wanted to review it.
I have to warn you that if your reading reactions are anything like mine, I had to force myself to get through first 10-15% of the story on my Kindle (maybe 30-35 pages?), but it eventually got better. I did not feel that there was anything wrong with the writing in the beginning either; it felt lyrical and beautiful throughout the book, but I just did not connect emotionally to the detailed excursion in the young years of Allen and his parents. I understood on an intellectual level why this part of the story was important and necessary to further developments in the book, but I could not help myself — just was not feeling it. Maybe because I connected to the present Allen right away from the very first page? I thought that first page was very moving and I just could not wait to get to his story even if I think I understand what the author wanted to show by giving us so much time with his parents?
In any event, when we get to the story — or stories — of Allen’s life, I really loved it. Even though the pace of the story is quite slow throughout the book, I did not feel that it dragged. I thought the love story between him and Jeremy was very beautiful and sweet, but not saccharine at all. I thought the writer showed their insecurities and flaws very well and still made me like both of the guys. I really loved that we got to know them as complete, fully fleshed out “people,” and I thought that the family they built for themselves was something to root for and believe in. I liked how the writer devoted so much time to show the connection they have with their children, and while I know that not everybody is keen on reading about children in their romances, I loved watching Toby and Kit grow up and enjoyed them as characters as well. The love of a father for his child is something I really enjoy reading about and I thought again that here it was an organic part of the story, since both children, especially Toby, were a huge part of their family, but again take note, if you don’t like kids in your stories this one is not for you.
As the blurb tells us, we meet Allen when he is already sick, so a somewhat melancholic mood is inevitable when reading this one, but I can say I did not feel depressed when I finished the story. I can’t tell you more or predict what you will feel, but this story first and foremost is about love and family, even if Allen’s illness (I think AIDS, but I do not think it is ever spelled out) is a part of him when the story starts.