Dellaguzzo, Lou, “Always There by Leaving”, Beautiful Dreamer, 2020.
Paul is just twelve years old and is already a loner. He has stepped back from everything including withdrawing from his school, his family, and his own body. He hardly has a connection with the reality in which we all live. But he meets Hal, another angry youth, who carries his brother’s guilt (his brother was arrested for a violent home invasion). Even though the sources of their anger and loneliness are different, the two boys manage to bond by fighting but eventually evolves into something more even while being unequal. There is affection between the two, but it is always tested by Hal and his behavior, which is risky. They become involved in a shoplifting scheme that goes wrong— they play dangerous games, and are present when the police raid on a gay bar.
Set in Newark in the late 1960s, life seems to fall apart around Hal and Paul. Hal’s schemes become wilder and they lead to a messed up drug deal and deadly violence. We learn of Paul’s dysfunctional family life and about the dangerous men who are willing to take advantage of boys whose families do not seem to care and who search for love. More than just a story, we get a look at “class, family, sexual difference, urban decay, and passionate friendships.”
I have always felt that a good read comes from the author’s plot ideas and construction, the development of characters, the quality of prose and “Always There by Leaving” excels in all three areas. I was unable to stop reading once I began the novel. There are rare twists and turns throughout and something about the two boys made me care about them. Lou Dellaguzzo brings us two characters that are unforgettable but then all of the characters found their way into my thoughts and are likely to remain there for a long time. Paul and Hal share a friendship that is far from the way many of us think about the word. They two boys build a love that began as a fight (and their relationship is often dangerous and violent) yet they have each other. Even though that does not always seem like the best thing, they both learn a great deal about love. Dellaguzzo takes us back to a time when being gay carried a lot of baggage. Hence, we are reminded of how lucky we all are today.