Mann, Jeff. “Country”, Lethe Press, 2017.
The Trials of Brice Brown
I have been reviewing Jeff Mann for over ten years and he has consistently written books that are wonderful in plot and excellent in prose. He is one of the author’s that I always look forward to reading. I am not really a fan of country music (except Dolly) of course so I was a bit concerned when I learned that his new book was about Brice Brown, a country singer. My concern left me by the time I finished the first page.
It is the 1990s and we meet Brice Brown who has quite a name in the annals of country music and is at the height of his career. However, in a very short time all of that changed. The time has come and passed for him to release a new CD and he is living in the closet and paying for sex. What’s worse is that his ex is about to out him. With that Brice begins his downward spiral. What we really see here are the singer’s misfortunes that are based on his sexuality and his hiding his sexuality. Today, the result would not have been so dramatic since the world has changed so much in the last few years. With George Michael’s death, his sexuality was hardly mentioned and no one would dare to say anything to tarnish his name. Do not get me wrong— homophobia is still with us, it just takes a different form.
Brice had to deal with awful stories and no back up and his career and his life crumbled before his very eyes. The assault on his name, music, image, and career is heartbreaking. However, looking at Brice we see something of an anomaly— he judges others the way they judge him and this is not help by his own internal homophobia of hating himself for who he is. He has been and is self-destructive and he struggles with self-hatred. He goes into dark moods from which he has difficulty finding release. We know and we suspect he knows that he cannot stay down forever and there must be some light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. He finds a way out and he does so with the help of Lucas, another country guy that steals his heart (and provides us with some very juicy sex scenes).
Brice’s path out of despondency and despair is as powerfully written as was his demise. As Brice moves forward, characters fall away and when he finds a place to be with himself and think, we get a group of characters that form a family around him. We have comedic moments but reality is always close by. Yes, Brice angers and frustrates us but we do not lose our faith that he will be alright.
We must never allow ourselves to forget that there are bigots in this world who use religion and whatever else to back up the way they feel. Brice and Lucas survive the homophobia but do so with scars.
It took Brice to stop being miserable and to begin meeting and speaking with people and it was then that change began. I especially like bringing sexuality into the world of country music (even though we all know it is already there). In doing so, we get a look at a world that is foreign to most of us. After all, let’s face it—love is everywhere; we just need to go and find it. Mann gives us another unforgettable character in Brice and reminds us that as near as the 1990’s there was a danger in being gay.