Paradise at Main & Elm, Barry Brennessel
Publisher: Wilde City Press
Genre: Gay Romance
Tags: College Age MC’s, Ensemble, Psychological – Mental Health, Dysfunctional Families, Romance, Contemporary
Length: 325 Pages
Reviewer: Kazza K
Ezra stole glances at Adrian. He knew that when he first brought Adrian to that spot, Adrian would know why. Why it was reserved for the two of them. The man who wrote poetry, and the man who writes short stories.
Adrian Stockwell attends college in New York. He takes a creative writing class and in that class is one Ezra Cherevin. Ezra of the jeans, boots and football jerseys. Not that Ezra’s a jock, but those jerseys suit him, according to Adrian. In writing class they have a shared nemesis in Mike Somba, someone who really doesn’t like the class but likes to criticise others who do. But Somba inadvertently helps Adrian and Ezra connect one night after Adrian has been quite critical of Mike Somba in class. He is going back to leave a note for Professor Hartwicke apologising for his not so kind critique/thoughts. If he leaves a note he doesn’t have to face anyone, which suits Adrian. When he turns up Ezra is lying on a sofa –
“Oh, hey. Kick-ass job with Somba’s story today.” (…)
Ezra patted the empty space next to him.
Did he really…was he indicating….
“Have a seat.”
Adrian’s mouth went dry. He could hear himself gushing over the phone later to Noah. Ezra Cherevin asked me to sit next to him!
It’s a catalyst for Ezra and Adrian to talk rather than just be in the same class and admire from afar. Ezra calls Mike Somba “Gus,” and (before now) Adrian has always been “Christian.” As the book progresses you discover that Ezra makes names up for people based on what he thinks they look like. He likes the sound of words, pays particular attention to noises around him – letting some in, blocking some out, and rolling some sounds around on his tongue – phantasmagorical. They are both up for critiques tomorrow in class for their respective writing – Ezra his poetry, Adrian a short story – and figure Somba is going to be gunning for them both – Ezra has had…words with Somba as well. Ezra asks if Adrian would like to grab something to eat with him. Adrian assumes Ezra has a restaurant in mind but Ezra takes him to the shop with the ‘best meatball subs’, and to an old orchard that means so much to him –
Adrian stood. Why?”
“Nut. That first story you submitted to class? Perennial?”
Adrian smiled. “Oh, duh. The orchard scene.”
“The way you described the land,” Ezra said, “I’d swear you’d been here before.”
But Adrian hasn’t been to the apple orchard before.
Ezra loves the orchard, the sounds, or lack there of, the serenity and the aura in general. It represents an oasis of calm and sanity in what is a chaotic world for him. And Adrian’s story about an orchard made Ezra feel that he understood exactly how Ezra feels when there, that he knows how Ezra feels in general, as Adrian’s short stories really speak to him –
…”It’s like you just totally got inside my head with that scene. It’s like you totally understood the necessity.”
And Adrian connects with Ezra in the orchard, loves it there as well. Both young men share a connection formed over a night spent eating subs in a special place and talking until the early hours – including discussing whether Ezra was named after poet Ezra Pound, although Ezra is not talking about family and isn’t too keen on being pigeonholed as a ‘fascist poet.’ Ezra’s theory is if you take away the gays and the fascists you limit you’re literature. They make a pact, of sorts, to face Somba’s critiques together in class later that day. Adrian asks to swap phone numbers but Ezra doesn’t have a phone. As odd as it seems in this day and age some people don’t have cell phones, some people are on a tight budget. But Ezra has given him two of his poems to read and Adrian is on a cloud after their time spent eating out together, being in the orchard together. That Ezra Cherevin seems to like him is amazing to Adrian –
He smiled. Ezra had taken him – Adrian Stockwell – to a spot that was extremely special to him.
From here the books splits into Ezra and Adrian’s individual lives. What got them to where they are now and what is currently going on for them. Ezra never does make the class and Adrian has a meltdown over Somba’s critique of his short, getting up and leaving class. He wonders why Ezra didn’t show up, why he was left alone to handle the critique. He panics that he will be forever banished from the class. The reader knows why Ezra is incapable of attending the class. He has his own meltdown. Ezra has lived a hard life within a very poor family, one built around apathy (at best), poor role models, abuse and utter terror and violence. Not to mention his younger brother, Derek, has some other issues. By nineteen, Ezra is not an emotionally well young man, yet he’s survived and he is a lovely, gentle soul. He also has a regimen of medications to take –
“How many days have you been skipping them?” Dr Durschlag said…
“Ezra? This is serious.”
“I don’t know. You’ve changed stuff on me….”
“I down more pills than I do food. Is that normal?”
It is not easy to read Paradise at Main & Elm and not be deeply impacted by Ezra’s story –
He felt hands and arms and elbows on him, now, as the bed rattled. He wanted his mother’s face out of his head.
“My grandfather named me after Pound. Because my grandfather was a fascist too, you know?”
“Okay, Ezra, okay.”
A needle pricked his arm. He knew darkness was coming.
Adrian has his own problems: A mother who packed him off to boarding school as soon as she could. A mother who could not comfort her son when his father died. A mother who is leave-alone-zap – never any love or praise just condemnation and criticisms given, fault found.
Adrian’s mother is part of an ensemble of those living at Main and Elm, or, as the locals call it, Paradise. But it is far from Paradise. It’s a flawed upper-middle-class dead end street in New York, and Barry Brennessel does an incredible fly-on-the-wall of the residents.
The boys come from vastly different socio-economic backgrounds – Adrian has a trust fund and both sides of his family have money, Ezra’s background is poverty. But Adrian won’t touch his money – too many emotional strings attached. He works as an office cleaner to earn some money. He enjoys the solitude it brings him and the independence from his family, his mother. Neither boy lives on campus, preferring to be away. Ezra has little and just struggles to survive.
Now, Adrian’s mother has summoned him home, so he has to drive to Sethville for the weekend. A letter has turned up from an attorney and it is high drama for some reason. Why she can’t just forward it on Adrian doesn’t know. He doesn’t like to go her house. He doesn’t like to spend time with his mother. He dreads it –
Maybe the visit with his mother wouldn’t be so horrific. If he could just…if there was some way that he could…
It’s going to be fucking hell.
It’s not my fault, he wanted to scream. I had nothing to do with my father’s death. Why are you treating me as if I don’t exist?
He opened his eyes, and stared across the street at the train depot.
Another welcome to Sethville sign.
“Oh Ezra, are you in the apple orchard?”
With Adrian away, and not having seen Ezra, not knowing how to contact him, he asks his good friend and one time lover Noah to look out for Ezra on campus. Just as well he does.
It is impossible to review this book in its entirety because there is so much going on but it all ties into the lives of Adrian and Ezra, pre and post meeting. The book is an ensemble cast with several character POV. I remember thinking why the prospective purchaser of a house on Main & Elm was involved in the story, but Barry Brennessel shows us why – another piece added to the human condition, dysfunction of ‘Paradise.’ We are, as human beings, quite complex. If you don’t read any other part of this book, and I’m not sure why you would not read it, you have to read the stories a younger Adrian wrote at Pembrooke School for Boys. The kerfuffle it caused – Barry Brennessel has short stories within the story to convey Adrian’s feelings, the way he vented – and the wonderful epistolary back and forth section of Chapter 8 Then sudden waxed wroth…is clever, biting and telling all at once.
Paradise at Main & Elm is a quality piece of writing, easy to read, and not the least bit pretentious or pompous. It is LGBTQ fiction with family, and all their myriad difficulties at the centre, but love is really at its beating heart. And also that sometimes some people have a difficult life but it can work out pretty okay in a realistic fashion. Fractured souls can find one another in amongst the fracas of life and gain great comfort, solace, and love. They can choose to be survivors. There can be somewhere so special, so meaningful, something so strong, that it brings us to the person we are meant to be with –
The air was too cool to sit out in the apple orchard. Besides which, he thought it just seemed that the next time he went there, Adrian should be there with him. He wanted to hear more of Adrian’s insights into the strange but compelling art of the written word. He wanted Adrian to taste all five recipes of meatball subs that the sub shop offered.
If you are an observer of life, of people, of psychology. If you have had a somewhat dysfunctional upbringing, or you are an empathetic reader. If you like to think about the words you are reading. If you just love a beautiful romance, especially one set in amongst other parts of life that are bared open and exposed for the reader. If you like lovely characters and beautiful words, both placed together in such a way they draw you in and touch your very soul, then I cannot recommend Paradise at Main & Elm highly enough.
“I don’t want to scare you away,” Ezra whispered.
“Why would you scare me away?” Adrian whispered back.
“Because I’m flawed.”
Adrian reached up, and traced the bruises on Ezra’s face. Ezra’s face tingled.
“I like flawed,” Adrian said.
This book was originally supplied to me by the publisher, Wilde City Press, in return for an honest review.
However, I have since purchased a copy.