You could look inside the back room of a butcher shop in the 1930s and think the tragedy belongs to the animals hanging crudely from their hooks, yet in The Butcher’s Sons, the animals get off lightly compared to the young men growing up in the Hell’s Kitchen of Scott Alexander Hess’s new novel.
Three brothers, Dickie, Walt, and Adlai, run their father’s butcher shop as the old man drifts soundlessly through day after day of a life and love he can’t let go of. The sons do their best to hold on to their sense of family above all other things, but one by one they are tested by desires; for love, for lust, and for power.
This more modern retelling of King Lear brings the kingdom down to the streets, but the heart-wrenching cruelty of fate shows up in the same Shakespearean way.
Dickie, a live wire waiting to shock the world, is drawn to the gangs surrounding his neighborhood. He sees a way up, a way out, and a way to the respect he knows he deserves. Along his bloody path up the ladder, he is drawn to an older woman, one who’s been around long enough to know how to handle the danger cooped up inside him.
Walt, the straight line inside the crooked family, has it all planned out. School, girl, future lives together, it’s all just waiting for the right moment to kick it all off. But no matter how hard he tries he cannot escape his family and the reputation they have. When the father of Walt’s true love denies in no uncertain terms that he will ever give his daughter away, Walt is presented with the impossible choice of becoming the very thing he fought against or lose her forever.
Then there’s Adlai, the young one, the skinny one, the one so easily overlooked by the world. He struggles to find his place. He’s not big enough to pose any physical threat and too sensitive to speak up for himself in any real manner, but as time goes by he discovers there is more that sets him apart from his family than he ever imagined. As he discovers his true self, he walks on the razors edge between excitement and entrapment.
Hess weaves all three of these points of view together under the sweltering heat of Hell’s Kitchen in the 1930s. The Butcher’s Sons is told with such vibrancy and aroma, you can almost feel the sweat seeping out of your skin. It’s oppressive and heavy, but it draws you into their world and you feel how trapped they are. They can’t escape the city, the can’t escape the heat, and they can’t escape their family.
The Butcher’s Sons drives three sons through the heat and danger of youth until they all must make choices that will change everything.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=1590210743]