Title: The Butcher’s Sons
Author: Scott Alexander Hess
Publisher: Lethe Press
Release Date: April 16, 2015
Genre(s): Historical, M/M, M/F
Page Count: 247
Reviewed by: Alissa
Heat Level: 2 flames out of 5
Rating: 3.8 stars out of 5
This darkly lyrical and violent family saga set in a butcher shop in New York circa 1930 tells the story about three Irish brothers, each struggling to find their role–to define their lives and express their dreams–amid the poverty of a broken home, alcoholic father, and the violent society of Hell’s Kitchen. Dickie is guided by an almost animal desire to get what he wants and, as a fighter, is fearless in his pursuit of being respected by mobsters. Walt, the middle brother, romances a woman whose educated father sees the lad as gutter trash. Then there is frail Adlai, who finds himself on the most perilous path, an illicit affair with his oldest brother’s best friend. The Butcher’s Boys is an engaging read about desperate young men determined to do whatever they can to find something gilded amid the grime of old New York.
“Dusk settled over New York, and with its lilac light softened the grit of the city’s ceaseless urging.”
I’m at loss for words. To describe this book. To do it justice. The first thought that pops up into mind is beautifully written followed by what the hell did I just read. My thoughts, feelings are all over the place. This is not just a romance. Or a historical. It’s a story of family. There are many relationships explored: m/m, m/f, father to son, brother to brother to name a few. It is painfully, violently, historically accurate.
Set in 1930’s Depression Era NYC, The Butcher’s Sons tells the story of three young men and the city they live in. Mr. Hess captures the period, the city perfectly. He describes the butcher shop in such a way the reader will think they are there … the sights, the smells, the heat of the summer. I will admit I became physically sick to my stomach on more than one occasion due to the attention to detail. Mr. Hess’ writing is not always easy to read. I will admit I got lost in the words more than once and had to go back and reread certain passages. There were times I didn’t understand an exchange or what he was trying to convey to the reader. There was entire section I skimmed over because I just didn’t get it; didn’t understand why it was even there. But his characters are written so well, so real that I could overlook this and continue to move forward. The one thing I could not overlook was the fact that The Butcher’s Sons could do with another round of editing. It was small things like a character’s name being spelled two different ways but it’s these type of mistakes that bother me. Causes me to stop reading which pulls my interest from the book.
I realized the best way for me to review The Butcher’s Sons is through the eyes of each son. Their lives are intertwined by blood and history but they couldn’t be more different.
Dickie is the oldest of the three brothers. He is a difficult puzzle to unravel. While other characters in the book might describe him as the strongest of the three, he is actually the weakest. Not in term’s of strength but in character. When I ponder him, my first thought is “psychopath.” His own brother describes him as “sinister”. He is a reckless, dangerous bully who wants to be somebody not just the son of a butcher. He decides the only way he can achieve this is by becoming a gangster. And not only does he get himself involved with the mob but he brings his little gang of friends and brothers along for the ride. He is continually plagued by a nightmare involving an eel. It haunts him and guides his decisions. I was perplexed by this dream. It’s meaning went right over my head but not the feelings it invoked in his character.
Walt, the middle child, wants to get out of Hell’s Kitchen all together and become a doctor. He is seeing a young Latina woman whose father is also a physician. Walt, more than anything, wants to become respectable. He steers clear of his older brother and does his own thing. Walt’s character was the most difficult for me to connect to. While I wanted to see him succeed, get away from his family and marry his love, his presence was not really felt until the last third of the book when he needs Dickie’s help. This sequence changes him. Changes the direction of his life. And possibly not for the better.
Adlai. My darling. So frail and innocent. Timid. Gay. Being the youngest and smallest of the brothers he is referred to as the “runt” quite often. It is his character I fell in love with. His story that I remember most. The reader wants to leap into the book and rescue him from his life; his fate. His brothers know he is different but just can’t quite put their finger on why. Because of this, Dickie takes a special interest in his brother … he wants to make a man out of him which puts him in the sights of his brother’s friend Ed and Frankie, a mobster. And while he develops a relationship with Dickie’s best friend, it is the mobster’s attention that creeps me the fuck out.
The brother’s relationship is tested by the end of the book in what I can only describe as explosive but not solving anything. Too many questions are left unanswered which has me wondering if a sequel is in the works. And while I had a few problems with The Butcher’s Sons it is not enough to keep from a second book. I need answers.
I recommend to historical junkies like myself who can overlook a few editing issues and some very wordy prose. Meeting these brothers is totally worth it.