Thursday, January 10, 2008

Book... This Place Of Men

novel by Doug Cooper-Spencer

Twenty years ago, two teenage boys, Otis and Terrell, fell in love with each other, physically acted on that love, and suffered very different consequences for their demonstrative affection. Otis is incarcerated for his part while Terrell is sentenced to the even crueler punishment of a churchified exorcism of his wicked ways and a false marriage to an always-suspicious wife, an outward ideal, replete with two beautiful children, that belies the rot within the lie he and they live.

Set in a close-knit Cincinnati community, where everyone knows everybody's business, whether they admit it or not, Otis, having served his sentence, followed by nearly two decades domiciled in the anonymity of New York City, prodigally returns.

Both men, older, not that much wiser, and still with deep, but oppressed feelings for each other, hopelessly resist that inevitable meeting, sparked on by beautifully rendered remembrances sprinkled throughout this mournful tale of innocent love damaged by societal condemnations and recriminations as sad, hypocritical, and emotionally crippling as anything out of 1600 Salem without the literal stake burnings.

Doug Cooper-Spencer's book "This Place of Men" is a bittersweet tale of love dashed against the rocks of a recalcitrant river of intolerance. It is a mildly enjoyable read that teases readers with all the elements of "grand operatic”reflective arias, sweeping dramatic movements, narrative orchestrated with sweeping arpeggios, gentle pianissimos, and thunderous fortes, strings and brass, woodwinds and kettle drums, but, alas, the author's use of all the instruments that he has brought to the concert hall are tentative, therefore less effective as they could be.

The story promises great passion upon which it does not always deliver, which tends to disappoint considering the rich possibilities engendered by the very idea of two innocents in love being robbed of their happiness, and living for so many years with all the unfair consequences visited upon them by hypocrisy, bigotry, and the greatest cut of all, polite indifference.

When it comes to the narrative, author Cooper-Spencer is just fine, at times poignant, but he is constantly hamstringed by a lack of emotional boldness and dialogue that has not been pruned of its ordinariness, that remains unadorned, oftentimes not compelling the reader to discover character through the clues shrewdly and compellingly left by things said.

This Place of Men takes a long time getting around to its reveal and ultimate denoucement, and when we are finally shown why Otis was incarcerated, what happens when these two men meet after all these years, we wonder if the set-ups were worth the wait. Nonetheless, there is much to admire about this brooding meditation that at least harkens toward self-love in spite of societies oppressive attitudes, therein lies its boldness.

Also, we are left with a sense of hope by the last page, which could easily spawn a sequel. I encourage Mr. Cooper-Spencer to make sure part two contains sharper dialogue, stronger conflicts, and a busier red pencil.

For a resource of black gay male authors, visit myspace/gbmbookclub

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