Reiter, Jendi. “Two Natures”, Saddle Road Press, 2016.
Coming of Age
We have had so many coming of age stories that it seems like that the genre has played itself out. I figured that if there would be any more written, they would have to be really spectacular. That is exactly what Jendi Reiter’s “Two Natures” is.
Set in the early 1990s, Julian Selkirk is a fashion photographer in New York City. Julian had grown up in Atlanta with an abusive alcoholic father. The church condemned his sexual orientation and he was alienated and ashamed. His faith was lost and he knew he had to find some way to regain it. He needed to find his identity and so he looked for it by having had affairs with three men.
There was Phil Shanahan, a personal trainer who was quite tough and determined to find success. Richard Molineux, the second lover was a fashion magazine editor who gave him his first big break and then there was Peter Edelman, a left-wing activist with a secret life.
The 90s were a rough time for gay men. The AIDS epidemic was devastating the gay community and the racial tensions in New York were severe. Julian is concerned with beauty and he is not relationship oriented (or so he thought). After all his career is based upon how people look. We would tend to think that a person like this is probably shallow but that is not the care with Julian. As he finds his way, he learns that there is much past the initial impression and short relationships do nothing for the psyche. He uses his art as a way to pay his dues to society. He remains hurt about the rejection that he received from religion and tries to make up for that by losing himself in the nightlife of New York until he realizes that this is only a substitute for his faith which he never really lost—he just subjugated it to other desires. The spiritual crisis he suffers is much like the kind that so many gay people are forced to deal with as they try to understand why they are rejected by their religions. Here the key word is “religion” and it is not as some may think, “God”. There is certainly a big difference between the two.
Julian is determined to make it big in New York even though he feels like an outsider. As he experiences gay culture in the big city, he has to deal with suffering, pain and grief as he also struggles with God. He is often distracted (and if you live in a big city, you know what I mean). However that distraction does not really interfere his looking for love and acceptance. He uses his craft of photography as a way to change the world and to protect himself from it. It is quite easy to hide behind a camera just as so many today hide behind their computer screens.
Julian realized that the world is so much bigger than what he could see through a viewfinder and he ventures out into it. He wants to find what is real in this world and garbed in his two natures of beauty and truth, he heads out for the smorgasbord of life.
We get quite a look at New York of the 90s and the hedonistic behavior that came before and during the onset of AIDS. It is a pleasure to read a novel that is literary in all of its aspects. I also found that the issue of faith that is so important to me is beautifully handled here. For those who are dealing with this issue, there is much to be learned here. We so often substitute things and events that are near for the goals that we search and one reviewer put it perfectly when he says that at that time “Style and become God, sex has become a [contact] sport and jobs, money and survival are always around the corner somewhere else”. We all know someone like Julian and many of us see ourselves in him. The highest praise that I can give this book is to say that “I love it” and I do. Julian is an everyman and in that he is a composite of so many gay personalities. You owe to yourselves to read this wonderful novel.