Currier, Jameson. “A Gathering Storm”, Chelsea Station, 2014.
Gay in the South
When I learned that Jameson Currier’s new book was about a young gay man in the South, I was very anxious to read it. First, Currier never disappoints and is a writer that I look forward to reading. Secondly while I live in the North now, I will always be a son of the South. Currier gives us the story of a hate crime in the South that was inspired by real events.
The novel is set in a small and unnamed town, the home of a university, somewhere in the South. Danny is a student at the school and one Monday night right after school began, he met two guys, Rick and A.J. in a local bar and the three left together. Danny did not come—he was left to die after he had been savagely beaten and tied to a fence. He was found until the next day and in addition to his wounds he suffered from exposure and was taken to the hospital. It did not take long for the news to spread and soon the town was deluged with media people and the news spread quickly to the entire country. I am sure that this story sounds familiar to many who remember what happened to Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming and there are other similarities as well but what struck me the most was that Currier actually began this book some ten years ago before the Internet was quite as popular or fast as it is today and I will write of that a bit later. Currier does tell us in his introduction that the Shepard case was the initial inspiration for this book.
The novel opens with the crime that indeed resembles the Shepard scenario and then two different stories that come together follow. One of the stories deals with how the crime affected the people in the college town and the other relates what went on during Danny’s lost day of life. As we read we become aware of the way Danny’s story changes during the week and we see how is community deals with the story, how it is viewed by the media and by the others as they understand the story and then use it for whatever purpose they might have.
I want to be clear in that this is not just another telling of Danny’s story—it is much more. We hear from Danny’s family and his friends, by those who perpetrated the crime, by some of Danny’s schoolmates at the university and by those who were affected by the crime even though they had never made Danny. We get details that we might not otherwise had known. For me, this is what makes this book special—Currier tells us about how the community was affected immediately afterwards and what in the community allowed it happen in the first place. Because the community was small, there were secrets that might otherwise have never come out and the myth of life in a small town falls apart.
The effect of technology certainly played an important part in the news getting out. Moving ahead to today when we get news almost immediately, we can only imagine how this would be handled. Perhaps the greatest difference would be how something that was a big news story one day becomes almost forgotten two days later when another story takes it place. We see something else here and this is how the news of the crime affected individuals and the way that they reacted to it.
I remember all too well how we reacted to the Shepard case and then little by little the picture changed but not right away. When I lived in New Orleans I was friendly with two guys from Laramie who told me a completely different version of what happened to Matthew Shepard that was far from what everyone else heard. Then in the last two years, another book was written that reinforced the story that I heard but the author came under severe reprimand for having published what he did because it was at odds with the “accepted” hate crime interpretation. Jameson Currier shares with us in his “Author’s Note” that he indeed did research to write this novel and further reminds us that this is a work of fiction. Details have been changed and we certainly get a much more emotional read than if this had been nonfiction. There is a lot to be experienced here and Currier tells his story with style, grace and his traditionally beautiful prose and this is a story we need to hear, fiction or otherwise.
What is important to note is that even though Currier set his book in the South, it could have happened anywhere. Currier organized the book so that chapters go back and forth between the story of what happened to Danny and what happened afterwards. Danny knew and accepted that he was gay but he was dismayed that it would be impossible to find romantic love in his small town and it would be just as hard to be out about his sexuality.
Currier chose the present tense for the story and that makes it so very real for the reader. He also looks at the lives of A.J. and Rick and this adds something new to the story.
This is not an easy read but then it is never easy to read about hate. Yet this is something that we must be aware of so that if it happens again, we know how to deal with it. Some of it is very hard to read and that it why it has taken me so long to sit down and write about it. Death is permanent and we do not want to see anyone wind up that way because of unnecessary hatred.