Baines, Christian. “Puppet Boy”, Bold Strokes Books, 2015.
Eric is looking for the right idea for his first movie—he is a new filmmaker and all around him there are things going on—there is something to do with a school play, there is a young man who is financing himself as a gigolo, there is a girlfriend with a lot of baggage and a housebreaker tied up downstairs. Each of these is good to develop into a film script but the problem is that they are actual events going on right now.
Then there is Julien, a good-looking actor wannabe who has transferred into Eric’s class and while some may think that is great, Eric sees him as a rival and a distraction and an unnecessary distraction. Nonetheless, Eric cannot stop thinking about him and even with his girlfriend Mary to get his mind free. (Do not think you know where this is going—). Eric and Mary begin a project that comes close to the line between reality and fantasy filmmaking. Soon Julien and Eric become close friends and Eric is ready for something more but has idea whether Julian reciprocates that feeling. Of course, Julien just might be using Eric for his own selfish purposes.
There is a lot going on here especially with Eric’s attraction to Julien and we watch as the skepticism that Eric initially felt for Julian becomes fascination and sexual. Some of you might have already guessed what you think will be but there are other alternatives. Julien might only be a muse; or maybe a boyfriend except that Eric has a girlfriend, Mary. The two of them have been together since they were twelve and it is doubtful that Eric will walk away from that…or will he? We do see that both Mary and Julien are a bit more complicated than they seem at first.
I love the diverse cast of characters here and I want to just note that we finally have bisexual characters here. There are also no labels used (except for the one I just mentioned)—try and remember the last time you read a novel that had no labels. Sexuality is not an issue here; there are more interesting issues to deal with.
Our setting is a fancy Christian high school in Sydney, Australia and because it caters to the elite, there are plenty of issues and insecurities among the student body and the faculty. We get a good look at bisexuality even though it is never referred to or labeled as such. I am sure that many of you have noticed that three of the groups that make up the LGBT community have moved into the mainstream but the bisexual community remains marginalized even today. It is even marginalized among the members of the LGBT community as if to say it doesn’t really exist. We tend to lump bisexuals into the gay and lesbian components of our community and we rarely hear about or from them. In many cases, bisexuality is characterized as some kind of flaw that prevents someone from being whole. Then there are those who see it as a kind of compromise position.
Perhaps the best way to approach is the way writer Christian Baines has done with the discarding of labels. I believe the big difference is in visibility—we can usually tell if someone is gay but it is difficult to see bisexuality—if we are not told that someone is bisexual we would probably never know that to be the case. Bisexuality has not had role models and those who were bisexual did not dwell on it. Sexual fluidity was different in the 80s and 90s and there were those who slept with both sexes but who did not feel that it was necessary to make an issue of it. It seems like the sexual openness of the following years opened the closets for gay people and closed the bisexuals back into the closets. Being gay was something fascinating but being bi means being indecisive or so some think. It is so very interesting that the world has become pro LGBT and we are okay with the idea of bisexuality as people but not as a culture; something I have never understood.
Baines shows us that in order to write about bisexual characters, we must remember how bisexuals fare in society. I could continue this but I am here to review a book and not to give a lecture on sexuality. All that I really care about and I hope others feel the same way is that characters should be depicted as they are. Our society loves labels and we are obsessed with being help able to have people fit into categories and this is very different than what I have seen in other countries.
Baines succeeds with the creation of all of his characters because he does not look at the labels; he looks at feelings and not gender. We do not always know why we like some people and not like others. This can be sexual or not and we also must remember that sex does not always exist with physical attraction.
They can want sex and nothing else, or be totally in love with little or no sexual attraction. They can be messy, selfish, and screwed up, and to me, that’s interesting. That’s more reflective of what we’re like as people. The characters in “Puppet Boy: or not role models nor were they meant to be. I understand that the author created the characters before he created their sexuality and we see that Eric’s first and primary goal never changes. This is not a romance but rather a look at coming-of-age and dealing with sexual fluidity. We read of Eric’s sexual exploration and it is not important whether or not he accepts himself as bisexual. He is who he feels he is.
I love that there is so much to think about while reading this and there are thoughts that linger after closing the covers. For me, that is a sign of good literature.