Bram, Christopher. “Surprising Myself”, 1988, Open Road Integrated Media eBook reprint, 2013.
A Boy and His Friend
Christopher Bram who gave us the wonderful look at the history of our literature in “Eminent Outlaws” this year has had his first novel, “Surprising Myself” released as an eBook. It is the story of the relationship between Joel Scherzenlieb, a young gay boy and his straight friend. Joel has been sent to Boy Scout camp while his father, a CIA agent is off to work. Neither his dad nor Joel know anything of Joel’s homosexuality and right after finishes that summer as a counselor; he is off to his mother’s farm in Virginia. There is no money for college so Joel works on the farm with his mother, grandmother and sister, Liza. Then he meets Corey who has been his friend at camp and they eventually become sexually involved and they later move to New York. At just about the same time as Joel begins with Corey, his sister becomes involved with Bob, another guy Corey knew at camp.
In New York, Joel begins visiting bars in Greenwich Village and then Liza suddenly comes to his apartment, baby in tow. Her affair with Bob is over and now she looks to her brother and Corey to help her and to show her that there are relationships that have stability. It is not longer after that Bob comes looking for Liza and the story deals with issues of loyalty, blackmail and the meaning of love.
Corey and Joel actually had fallen in love at camp and when we read this, we begin to think that this is going to be one of those coming-of-age, coming-out novels that deal with adolescent problems but soon realize that this is something else altogether. This is Joel’s book and his story and he is a young man (or boy, if you prefer) with parents who are a bit odd—his mother has returned to the earth to work it, his father is a spy, his sister is in a bad marriage and has a child and Joel is alone with no emotional support and is indulgent and self-criticizing. He has no goal in life and is opposite of his “lover”, Corey who is confident and successful in his world.
The novel is set in the 1970s and when we meet Joel he is straight with dreams and fantasies which are broken when his father does not let him return to the Swiss school where he has been studying and instead goes to live with his “hippie” mother and then falls in love with Corey. What we really see is the weakness in those in the book which mirror for us the weaknesses we see in ourselves or are maybe blind to and need to be aware of. We also see that although decisions might be made for us, ultimately we are responsible for our lives and control our own lives. The way Bram draws his characters is uniquely his, I believe and their sexuality is secondary to their humanity. Joel actually believes he is straight until he falls in love with Corey and it is only then that he realizes reciprocal love. I really felt that is was not necessary to classify this love as gay or straight—it is love and that should say enough even though our world demands otherwise.