Erastes. “Junction X”, Cheyenne Publishing, 2011.
A Perfect Life?
Whenever I read a book by Erastes, I ask myself why I haven’t read more of her. Erastes and historical fiction go together beautifully and she always provides a wonderful reading experience and “Junction X” further proves that.
We go to the English suburbs in 1962 and meet Edward Johnson, a guy who has a perfect life but it is based upon a lie. He lives in a beautiful house and has a wonderful job. His wife is lovely and she loves him and his two children are well behaved. On the outside everything is fine bout on the inside Edward knows that is experiencing first love. The object of this feeling is Alex, the teenage son of his new neighbors and we watch Edward as he falls victim to sexual obsession. This is the story of an ordinary man who finds himself involved in an illicit love affair which drives him to self-destruction.
Erastes has written a haunting book, one that stays with you long after you have closed the covers. Edward first tries man/man sex with his best friend Phil while they are on vacation with their wives but he was left frustrated by it. When Alex moved into the neighborhood with his parents so that he could attend an exclusive school to prepare him for college and for whatever reason, Edward became infatuated with him. Edward seems to have forgotten who he is and that he is the father of two children and has a wonderful career and everything else that most want for success. It took just one kiss for the successful Edward to disappear and a different Edward to appear. He embarks on a relationship with a boy and there is no future in it but he is blinded by passion. We can foresee what is going to happen but that makes us want to read it even more.
Erastes use of the English language is an exercise in subtlety. She seems to handpick every word and when all is taken together, we get sublime gorgeous prose. When you take that prose and put it to a wonderful plot, you get magic and that magic is a trademark of Erastes. The way that life and struggle are approached here reminds us that England once had the Wolfenden Report that outlawed homosexuality and that was as recent as just fifty years ago. The reader knows that Edward is headed for doom but it is as if he has no idea. Of course the fact that Alex is so young also adds to the sense of doom that we feel.
There is really no romance here as what Edward feels is not love but obsession and what I find so clever about this book is that we tend to identify with Edward knowing he is doing the wrong thing and we feel the tension that he feels and it hurts. Think about how many books that you have read recently that do something like that to you as you read. I doubt you will find many.
This is Edward’s story and he tells it to us. Everything is from his point of view. While everything was good with Edward, it all fell apart quickly when his feelings developed for Alex. I do not know why but I liked Edward—there was something about him that drew me in. Perhaps it was because he was so naïve and seemed to need love so badly. His relationship with his wife was lukewarm and his friend, Phil, seemed to use him for sex but we learn a different aspect about him later. Ed does not seem to go after life—instead he waits for it to come to him. He comes across as a “good guy” who has a comfortable life that is torn asunder when he starts with Alex. I did not want to blame him for getting involved in something he could not handle but then I watched him descend into something that he lost control of.
I wanted Ed to find love and I do not think, by any means, that is what he found with Alex. Ed loves Alex and that is clear but I could never get a real hold on how Alex really felt about Ed. Obviously there was some kind of worship from his part and this was a “first love” for him but there was something missing in looking at him. It was also the fact that Ed was so irresponsible with Alex and caused the sadness in the novel. I also noticed that the feelings I had for Edward were changing into frustration as he stopped thinking about what he was doing and changed from the naïve man of the first half of the book to a reprehensible character in the second half. That frustration I felt turned to anger when I saw how inept he was at handling the situation and his lack of feelings for others. By the time the book was over and lives were ruined, I was very angry. With a little maturity and foresight, this entire business could have been prevented but obsession took over for reason and all was lost.
It is not often that I find myself experiencing the kinds of emotion that grabbed me here and I almost feel silly mentioning that I was wrapped up but that is the sign of an author who pulls the readers in and holds them. Erastes is amazing in doing so. As you can probably tell from what I have written, this is not a book that is an easy read especially with the complex characters that were presented.
I have to compliment Erastes on daring to touch a subject like man/boy love and to do so beautifully. I especially loved the way she characterized Edward who certainly knew what dangers were ahead yet who still went after what he thought he wanted. Alex was also a complex character and I really believe that he got great satisfaction thinking about how he was seducing Edward and thereby thinking that he had power. However, the real power here is Erastes’ power of the written word and her use of it.