“But if all of this has taught me one thing, it’s that it ain’t about me and what I get. It’s about letting people be who they are. And being who you are shouldn’t be a goddamn death sentence.”
Flatiron Books | 2021
Filed Under: Life is short, don’t be a fucking asshole.
Well, this ruined me emotionally, thanks so much.
Two gay men – an interracial married couple with a young daughter – are murdered in what appears to be a hate crime. Their fathers – Ike and Buddy Lee, boomers with nothing in common but anger and bigotry – seek out their sons’ killers under the influence of a maddening desire for revenge and their own redemption.
Oooh boy, talk about some heavy, emotional shit in this plot!
It nearly took me out, honestly. And I, like, never say that. I don’t mean that to be precocious or all teehee I’m dead inside. No seriously, I never say that about books.
I literally cried at the end. Cried. Me! Ugh, Razorblade Tears are no joke, baby!
Look, maybe you don’t know me well enough to understand that I am emotionally internal like 98% of the time, but really I would rather put a campfire out with my face than cry in front of anyone. It’s a nightmare for me to be visibly emotional. But of course, crying is good for you, so I will occasionally make plans for total privacy and then put on dog rescue videos to release some pressure on the valve, you know what I mean?
Or apparently, I’ll read the ending of this book.
If two fathers grappling with grief and regret aren’t enough to convince you to read this, then let me tell you about all the shit that gets blown up!
Seriously, for a novel so emotionally complex and socially relevant, there is a metric assload of action in this. And the juxtaposition between the high-impact bloody carnage and the heavy emotional aspects is seamless, captivating and brilliantly executed.
You get murder, assault, battle-scarred antiheroes, house fires, biker gangs doing crimes, mob boss kind of guys doing crimes, corrupt politicians doing crimes, bunkers, ammo caches, explosives, kidnappings, fist fights, knife fights, gun fights, bullet wounds, blown off limbs, retribution, revenge, hatred, unrestrained graphic violence, massacres, implacable revenge, landscaping, people hiding in fear for their lives, people who should be hiding in fear for their lives but are being brazen instead, cemeteries, vandalism, ex-cons, buddy-cop movie vibes, street smarts, shit blowing up here, shit blowing up there, a trailer getting swiss-cheesed with bullets, a body in a woodchipper, hospital stays, hospital escapes, illness, funerals, Trump supporter vibes, Republican vibes, old trucks, bad intentions, trauma, fatherhood, justice and discussions on racism, homophobia and bigotry.
I would say, maybe the only thing missing from this novel was more characterization provided to the two gay men whose murders are used as the catalyst for the plot.
But at the same time, we’re looking at this from the perspective of two homophobic fathers whose bigotry stopped them from knowing their sons at all. And in that way, keeping the lives of the sons unknown makes sense to the narrative. It compounds the regrets the two fathers have every time they learn something new. It forces the question of ‘was it worth it?’ Was it worth it to reject their sons, to not know them at all, to not have been involved in the beautiful life they were building together just because they were gay? Was it worth it, now that they’re gone, to have no chance to make up for what you missed? In the end, what the fuck does someone’s sexuality matter when life is short and you never know how much time we really get together?
This is not a feel-good story where these two bigoted men learn the errors of their problematic views through friendship and shared trauma. Nah. Ike and Buddy Lee start with anger towards their sons, then themselves and then they refocus all that anger into getting revenge for comfort, using the only emotion they are truly comfortable with – anger expressed through violence.
And shit gets gruesomely violent.
No, these two men were never really going to change much – they are old and stubborn, with their issues too deeply ingrained – but their necessary growth is woven throughout the narrative realistically. Ike and Buddy Lee finding a way to accept and love their sons, even in death, is written with more humanity, heart and nuance than any after-school special-kumbaya-moment could provide.
“Feels like we waited pretty late in the day to start learning shit,” Buddy Lee said. The bartender brought them two more shots.
“Day ain’t over yet,” Ike said.
The author does an effective job of injecting striking social commentary into the dialogue without it feeling preachy or blatant. It’s powerful and authentic, but subtle. The writing is charming and visceral and compelling. The level in detail is minimalist, only keeping what truly matters to propel the story forward, resulting in a pace that is as fast as when I let my dog outside and he spots a squirrel.
Gritty, action-packed, brutally honest and devastating in more ways than one, with a bit of humour but no cheese – this is one of my top reads of 2022.
I love revenge.
So, I don’t know, maybe give this to your bigoted aunt as a gift this holiday season and see what happens?
A Black father. A white father. Two murdered sons. A quest for vengeance.
Ike Randolph has been out of jail for fifteen years, with not so much as a speeding ticket in all that time. But a Black man with cops at the door knows to be afraid.
The last thing he expects to hear is that his son Isiah has been murdered, along with Isiah’s white husband, Derek. Ike had never fully accepted his son but is devastated by his loss.
Derek’s father Buddy Lee was almost as ashamed of Derek for being gay as Derek was ashamed his father was a criminal. Buddy Lee still has contacts in the underworld, though, and he wants to know who killed his boy.
Ike and Buddy Lee, two ex-cons with little else in common other than a criminal past and a love for their dead sons, band together in their desperate desire for revenge. In their quest to do better for their sons in death than they did in life, hardened men Ike and Buddy Lee will confront their own prejudices about their sons and each other, as they rain down vengeance upon those who hurt their boys.