Author: Ralph Josiah Bardsley
Publisher: Bold Strokes Books
Length: 264 Pages
Category: Literary Fiction, LGBT Fiction
At a Glance: Brothers is another must read novel from an author whose writing voice speaks to me in a deeply gratifying way.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: At twenty-three, Jamus Cork’s plans are simple—graduate college, stay in New York City, and write. But those plans change when his parents are suddenly killed and he finds himself the guardian of his little brother, Nick. Jamus ends up back in the Boston neighborhood where he grew up, with a crying toddler on his knee and the challenge of building a new life for himself and the boy. Jamus somehow finds a way to navigate the ups and downs of single parenting, but over a decade of raising Nick, Jamus never truly overcomes his struggles with loneliness and the guilt he feels as the sole survivor of the crash that killed his parents. That changes when he meets bookishly handsome Sean Malloy. There’s a spark between the two men, but both must face down their own private demons to find love in the Irish enclave of South Boston.
Review: There’s a reason Ralph Josiah Bardsley’s debut novel, Brothers, was a Lambda Literary Award finalist. There’s a reason his second novel, The Photographer’s Truth, would be an uncontested winner next year, if I had anything to say about it. It’s the same reason this author has just become an absolute must-read for me from this day forward—Bardsley’s gift for telling stories that draw me into every emotion and detail and the subtle nuances in the way his characters react to and interact with one another is all-consuming. There’s a complexity to the stories he tells that doesn’t rely on exaggerated drama or manufactured conflict for the sake of added drama. Rather, this author’s narrative encompasses the commonality of human existence, things that on one level or another we can all read and think, me too.
Brothers tells the story of two men—Jamus Cork and Sean Malloy—and their respective families. Integral to these men, of course, is the relationship they each have with their brothers. These connections are foundational to who they are and how they meet each other, and those connections inform the entirety of this story, though their circumstances couldn’t be more dichotomous.
Nick, Jamus’s younger brother, is the fulcrum in the story, the boy who becomes a bridge of sorts between Jamus and Sean, and the source of Jamus’s crisis of confidence when the truth about their parents’ death is finally revealed. I loved the story-within-the-story way that Bardsley worried at this thread, and then the way that Nick came apart at the seams when he was forced to face that gravitational shift in a teenage world already skewed by virtue of him having a gay brother. Yeah, teenagers can be cruel pains in the ass, and Nick both experiences that cruelty first hand and then hands it out to Jamus at a dramatic highpoint in the story.
Sean’s family situation is a polar opposite to the Cork brothers. Mother, father, brother, two sisters, theirs is a blue collar Irish Catholic clan in South Boston. Sean’s the piece of the Malloy puzzle that doesn’t quite fit—bookish and college educated. And gay, though he’s having a difficult time coming to terms with that truth, and is terrified by the idea that his family’s concept of normal will never be his reality—that normal would be marrying him off to Grace Kinvara, the woman who is hopelessly in love with Sean. Sean’s relationship with his brother, Kevin, elevates this novel to another level of exceptional. And Kevin himself sets the bar of brotherhood to impossible highs. I adored him for being the hero Sean needed at the time Sean needed him most, and that unconditional love served to make their sister’s cruelty that much uglier.
Nick as lynchpin comes in the form of him being a student in Sean’s class; he is the one thing Sean and Jamus have in common, and while they initially meet because of Nick, their relationship grows independent of him, even as there’s some question in the wisdom of throwing that sort of a potential dilemma at a kid who already has issues at school. Nick’s best friend Matt is yet another amazing character who’s integral to this story. I may as well just go ahead and correct that, though. This author doesn’t write characters as much as he writes people. These aren’t cookie cutter reproductions of fictional stereotypes—they’re residents of a story that, even if they’re not reflective of your own personal narrative, they are reflective of a story we all know as fellow human beings.
Brothers is another must read novel from an author whose writing voice speaks to me in a deeply gratifying way–his storytelling style romances me more than his characters romance each other–so if you love literary fiction, both of his novels are exemplary of character driven storytelling.
You can buy Brothers here: