A Guest Review by Sammy
Review Summary: A stunning novel of recovery and healing that stays with you long after the final pages.
Blurb: Kevin Derocher was thirty-two when he walked into Tom’s office, newly married, a baby on the way, and the collar of his red flannel shirt pulled up to hide the bruises around his throat from when he hanged himself in his garage. After his initial consult, therapist Tom Langois believes he’ll never see Kevin again—but Kevin turns up three years later to make repairs on Tom’s new house.
Kevin and Tom become fast friends, and Tom begins to suspect Kevin may be interested in more than friendship. However, Kevin remains haunted by something from his childhood—something so terrible he blocked it from his mind. These suppressed memories make it impossible for Kevin to get close to anyone without panicking and lashing out, sometimes violently. But as his past begins to surface, it becomes apparent that Kevin may hold the key to a twenty-five-year-old mystery: what happened to Billy?
Review: After I read, Billy’s Bones I needed to wait a day or so before I wrote this review. This novel was so overwhelming that I felt the need to just absorb it before trying to put down a cohesive analysis and recommendation. To say that this is not an easy novel to read is an understatement, and not because of overwhelming angst or subject matter, rather, it is because of the incredible care and compassion that Tom shows Kevin as he begins to work through the many horrifying demons that seem to plague his every waking and sleeping moment. It is, in fact, the love that develops between Tom and Kevin and that, in truth, may not survive Kevin’s recovery which makes this novel so heart-wrenching.
Billy’s Bones by Jamie Fessenden is more than just a contemporary love story, it is a raw and quietly explosive novel that claws its way off the page and into your very marrow. At times, you are left shaken and disgusted, teary-eyed and, much like Kevin himself, oddly cleansed after each trip down the rabbit hole that is Kevin’s memories. But most importantly, you are left hopeful and redeemed, in a sense and really happy that you chose to open this book and allow these characters to make a home in your life, for a too-brief moment in time.
Not wanting to expand overly much on the blurb, I need to give you a bit more detail on this story so that you can understand why I feel this is a must read and quite possibly one of the best novels of 2013. When Tom Langois first met Kevin Derocher he had just been released from the hospital to doctor-ordered counseling for attempting suicide. Tom easily recognized that getting through the thick walls that Kevin had built around himself was not going to be easy, especially since after the initial appointment Kevin never returned. Fast forward three years and Tom has just purchased a home in need of some minor repairs. Kevin’s name is suggested as one of the best of the area’s handymen. The two reconnect and it is apparent to Tom that not much has changed for Kevin other than the fact that he is now divorced and very casual about all subjects, including sex.
As days turn into weeks and these two men begin to spend more and more time together, Kevin reveals that he may have an interest in men after all, and Tom finds himself getting more and more deeply involved with Kevin. But then his nightmares return, and Kevin becomes violent and Tom realizes that the ghosts which haunt Kevin are deeply rooted and may end up causing the end of their relationship before it is even established. Kevin exhibits the telltale signs of abuse–childhood trauma and worse. Finally a wild and frightening thunderstorm becomes the trigger to unlocking one of the terrible secrets inside Kevin’s fragile mind. Twenty-five years before a boy had gone missing, a friend of Kevin’s, and he is the key to where the boy has gone and what his fate had been so very long ago. Now it is up to Kevin to decide if he will go through the needed therapy to unlock those secrets and discover exactly what happened in the past…a past that would ultimately determine if he could ever have an intimate and lasting relationship with Tom.
Again…where to begin this review. There are three main elements to this story that made it a truly outstanding novel.
Kevin is not only broken, his various quirks and ticks make him one of the most fascinating characters I have ever met. It is all there; his hyper-sexuality, a penchant for stripping down and preferring to be naked but never be touched, his tender and hesitant attempts to show Tom how much he cares for him, the heartbreaking revelations of a past so horrible that a disclaimer is set at the beginning of this novel warning of its intensity and potential trigger. It was all so well laid out and, as a result of some incredibly gritty and realistic writing, Kevin became one of the most heartbreaking personas to grace a written page. I have read many a book with similar characters in them, broken men that cling to the shreds of their life, walking the fine line between constant pain and the desire for normalcy, but Kevin Derocher redefines the word tortured.
As each new memory of his past is revealed, you marvel at the ability to love that still exists with Kevin. Like Tom, you are drawn so deeply into Kevin’s story that you feel the anger and frustration over his treatment as fully as if Kevin were a real person whom you had met once upon a time. And his burgeoning love for Tom…well that was sweetness beyond compare. Tom, the fixer, the mother hen, finds himself having to step away from the very man he is falling in love with, in order to help him heal. Tom’s need for Kevin is palpable, his desire to see him well, apparent. But it is the restraint that this character is given that is truly marvelous. The fact that Tom cannot counsel his boyfriend and must turn to others for help rooted this entire novel in reality, making Tom’s pain even more visceral and harrowing to watch. The character remains fully invested and yet forced to be cooly detached just as a therapist would, yet internally the struggle Tom has watching Kevin re-live his nightmares is breathtaking. Secondary characters come and go in this novel, but it is these two men who shoot off the page and into your heart and never let up until the final word.
Characters need a gripping story, a love arc and a resolution to make them come alive. Billy’s Bones moves relentlessly toward its goal to unravel the mystery of Kevin Derocher’s past. Each interaction between Tom and Kevin sets off a chain reaction, and the story relinquishes its secrets in small gasps, each one revealing another critical plot point. Even though we are aware early on that Kevin has suffered abuse, we are continually thrust into another of his memories like having our hand plunged into ice water. I could not put this book down. Each chapter unfolded and held me, spellbound. There were moments of laughter and tears, sadness and horror, but each time author Jamie Fessenden pulled you back from the edge much like he did Kevin and allowed you to breathe before plunging you headlong into the next revelation. Along the way there were little clues, a touch here, a uttered phrase there, each one another step on the journey toward the truth of what happened to Kevin so very long ago. This was suspense writing at its best.
It is unusual for the setting of a novel to become a character in its own right and yet this is exactly what happens in Billy’s Bones. The woods, the cabin, a boyhood home, a gardening shed all become critical to the story. Each new place Kevin takes Tom opens up to be the setting for another memory to be revealed and a trigger for Kevin to deal with in his ongoing struggle to find peace. Like Tom, I found myself beginning to dread the woods, the burnt patch of grass that was once the shed, the upstairs floor of Kevin’s boyhood home. The carefully detailed setting came alive under the author’s pen and, on more than one occasion, evoked everything from despair to downright terror. The imagery that each one painted danced around your mind as you read this novel and sometime caused such an air of foreboding that you found yourself quietly saying, “no, no, let’s not go there, Kevin…something bad happened there.” I love when a novel pulls me in so deeply that I become a part of the action for just a moment.
So, what more to say about this impressive and stunning novel other than this: I highly recommend Billy’s Bones by Jaime Fessenden to you. Yes, it is gritty and unflinching and, most definitely, difficult to read at times due to its subject matter. But..oh my…the healing that begins…the love and care that abounds from its pages…this is what love is all about; meeting the other person, even in the midst of their brokenness and saying, I am here…you are not alone. Billy’s Bones captures your heart and your mind and carries you in its grip until the final moments. A stunning novel. A recommended read.