Alther, Richard. “The Scar Letters”, Centaur, 2013.
Confronting a Hate Crime
Rudy Dallman, a 40 something year old gay man was the victim of an unresolved hate crime. Eighteen years later, he confronts his assailants. Rudy had been attacked and raped and has lived in self imposed isolation ever since. His best friend, Tex, forces him to confront the issue and Rudy begins quietly to try to reconcile his past, make peace with it and move unto the future. He is a quiet, honest man and he knows that he must do this if he is to continue to live.
As we read, we not only identify with Rudy but we enter his mind and take part in his past as well as his present and we feel his pain and his resolution that in some ways raise him up. To say that this is one of the most beautifully written books that I have read in a long time is an understatement—every word seems deliberately chosen to provide power to the gorgeous prose here.
The text also contains accounts of other hate crimes that ay people have suffered in the past and we are reminded of the awful heritage we have had to endure just to be who we are. This is a novel that is a reflection of the times about which it is written especially now that the equal rights movement has finally come into its own. For the first time, sexual orientation is being openly discussed and laws are being made to protect those of us who are different. Opinions in this country have finally changed and in many places, we no longer have to live in fear.
As many of you know, I am an avid reader but I am not often knocked off my feet by something that I read especially in the matter of both plot and language but I can honestly say that this is not just one of the most beautiful books I have read this year but it is one of the most beautiful books that I have ever read. Feel free to quote me on that. We do not often get books with gay themes about men of middle age and their search for love. We have been over burdened with an inordinate amount of coming out stories that rarely have anything new to tell us. It is almost as if writers are looking for some kind of new hook but they rarely succeed. This is where Richard Alther excels here. Here we have on quests for love, men like you and I, who realize that man was not meant to be alone. The novel also deals with the issue of non acceptance and the hurt that we as gay men are forced to live with because others do not see us as equals. Abuse from our peers is the worst of all abuse. No one wants to face rejection in life and when we are rejected by those close to us, we never are really able to deal with it. The scars that are the result of that abuse stay with us and affect us in ways that can hinder our growth. There is also something else that Alther does here—he does not avoid writing about sexual encounters but he does so in ways that the eroticism comes from us and not from his written word. It is nice to have a book about men and sex that is not sordid.
Rudy has had a rough life. He was raised by his grandparents because he was unwanted by his real parents and that is no way for someone to begin life. He was just a bit heavy weight wise and he knew he was different from the time he was a pre-teen. He did not act on it until he was 20 when he went into a gay bar in search of companionship. He eventually leaves the bar and heads to a nearby part where he is attacked. He was brutally beaten, his skin was carved and he was raped with a toilet plunger. The police did nothing to help Rudy nor did they do anything to the boys who attacked him and life went on—for everyone except Rudy. He hibernates and has only his friend Tex to talk to and Jack, a therapist with his own problems. Finally he listened to Jack and Tex and he goes back into his past, finds the two who assaulted him—they are now men and he meets with them. What happens then will require you to read the book. Rudy had thought that he was never to heal from the wounds inflicted that night but he decided later to do what it would take to heal.
I really love how the author begins each chapter with facts as to how gay men have suffered punishment throughout history (and we can hope that there will, one day, be no more chapters that begin this way. We now have options to deal with crimes like these—there must be good in this world if there is to be bad and the coming together of the two is what we are. We all have suffered some kind of physical and mental bruise in the past and we have only been able to deal with them by dealing directly with them.
I am a real sucker for allowing a book to emotionally draw me in and I know that when that happens, I am having a really fine reading experience. “The Scar Letters’ grabbed me early and I felt almost every emotion as I read. When I first met Rudy, I wanted to hold him and tell him to be strong and to hold on. He broke my heart as I read and wept about his story but as he matured and decided to understand who he is as he becomes an adult and tried to figure out his mess of a life, I cheered for him and he became my new best friend. His journey became my journey and as he made internal peace so did I. I was ready to forgive all of the name callers and the classmates who never wanted me on their teams and who refused to sit next to me at school as well as the principal of a school I taught at who let me go because I was too “funny” to be on his faculty and who I ran into years later performing oral sex on a young man in the bathroom of a gay bar.
We see here that there is indeed love in this world—we just need to find it. We need to find ways to move beyond the pain we have felt. There is hope there for all of us if we only believe in it and many times that hope is inside of us all the while things do not look good or go our way. The most important thing that Rudy and Richard Alther tell us here is that a wound will never heal if it is unattended. If I had to pick one word to describe this book, it would be a simple “Wow!!!” If you read no other book this year, make sure that this is the one that you do read.