Incest, paedophilia, child abuse, suicide: The Brothers Bishop is just another tale of everyday life in Connecticut. If this story ever makes it to silver screen, prepare for outraged demonstrations of the moral majority outside a cinema near you.
The book's central characters are Nathan Bishop, a reclusive gay school-teacher and Tommy, his fun-loving brother, also queer, who’s made an art form of promiscuity. Nathan's still living in the seaside cottage where he grew up, while Tommy never grew up and set off to sow his wild oats in New York City. But for one week only, Tommy's back, up-ending Nathan's comfort zone with his unsettling presence, and bringing an entourage of an unhappy couple (Kyle and Camille) and Tommy's latest flame, Philip.
It's hardly the dream team: Kyle's closeted, Camille’s frustrated, Tommy’s horny, Philip’s enfatuated and Nathan’s volcanic. As if this Molotov cocktail in-the-making weren't bad enough, enter Simon, one of Nathan’s students whose father is a little too useful with his fists. Once Simon enters Tommy's orbit, it seems only a matter of time before both will crash and burn.
Hovering over the smouldering stew like a bad smell is the Bishop brothers’ father. Long dead, but ever-present in their memories, he's the loving dad who turned abusive after their mother’s sudden death. Nathan is constantly being likened to his father, a, comparison that ignites his temper, which only serves to heighten the resemblance.
It would have been all too easy for the author to create suspense for the reader by hinting at a sexual dimension to the brothers' relationship. But there's no such device. He just comes right out with it, using Nathan's voice to make the matter-of-fact admission. Distasteful? Scandalous? Unacceptable? Perhaps. Except, the author seems to challenge the reader: who is going to cast the first stone?
And so the relationships pile on top of each other: Kyle and Camille, Kyle and Nathan, Nathan and Tommy, Tommy and Simon. There's even room for a neighbour, Cheri, whose archaeological dig represents a not-so-subtle metaphor for raking up the past. The characters are well drawn, the dialogue is sharp, and Nathan excels in the role of narrator.
No emotion is spared in this novel, and the author seems ever-ready to pour another cauldron of oil on the fire of hate, guilt, love and lust. And yet, as I neared its conclusion, I wondered if Yates would have the courage to face up to the inevitable. As it turns out, he didn’t, and although part of me was relieved that a phoenix was salvaged from the ashes, another part felt I'd been short-changed.
But The Brothers Bishop is a haunting story, and one that manages to combine those two imposters – tears and laughter – in beautiful, economically written prose. The book reminds us of that eternal verity: everything is relative.Powered by Sidelines