The Shattered Door, Brandon Witt
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Gay Fiction
Tags: Psychological, Strong Religious Overtones, Contemporary
Length: 439 Pages
Reviewer: Kazza K
The prologue of The Shattered Door starts in a pretty heavy way with the main voice of the book, Brooklyn Morrison, covered in someone else’s blood. From here there is a non-linear path to the end. I say non-linear, because as well as being current, it jumps to seven years earlier and a little over six years later, and during these periods of time Brooke remembers and relives things about his upbringing and his life with his mother and extended family. It isn’t done in italicised flashbacks, but rather through an event or a place triggering a memory or moment in time. Or a question requiring a response or thought from Brooke.
When part 1 starts, Brooke is twenty four and has graduated from college with a Bachelors Degree in Youth Ministry. He is living in Denver, Colorado, and he is at an interview for a first time job. He is nervous. He is hyper, and he is scared. Lester, the interviewer, puts him at ease as best he can, but Brooke is a young man with little-to-no confidence. He already feels he won’t get the job, but he’s there anyway. As it turns out, Lester offers him the job at the residential treatment facility, and Brooke is as happy as he can allow himself to be. But worried. When will the other shoe drop? Life has taught him if something good happens, there is something bad around the corner waiting to shoot him down.
Brooke goes to the gym. He doesn’t feel like the Adonis he would like to be at 5’7″ – if he can’t be tall, he can be buff. On a previous trip to the gym he sees a rather gorgeous and gregarious guy in the elevator dancing away to the Beach Boys. How could someone be so bold? How could someone grab life so easily and freely? Then, on another occasion at the gym, the same guy is singing away to the Mamas and the Papas. People look, but he doesn’t care. As luck would have it, Brooke and gym guy meet up. Gym guy is Jed Travazza, and Jed wants to take Brooke out to celebrate his job. It turns out Jed has liked what he has seen of Brooke too. Brooke wonders what Jed, this easy going, happy guy, could see in him?
Jump a number of months ahead and life has settled into a nice pace for Brooke. He and Jed are still dating, Lester has allowed him to implement a culinary club at the facility for the boys, and he likes his job and co-workers. Jed even organises for them to go home for Christmas and meet his family. Brooke is terrified before he meets Jed’s family, family isn’t exactly Jed’s strongest suit. It is a painful memory. The Trevazza’s are a wealthy family living in Seattle. They are an all-encompassing, broad minded family – from his parents through to his younger brother, Sam. They all embrace life and they embrace Brooke. They know he is special to their son. It is here that Jed proposes to Brooke. Sure, marriage equality doesn’t exist, but he has the ring and they can have a civil union and commit to one another.
From here, things skip to El Dorado Springs, Missouri. Brooke is back ‘home.’ Somewhere he had gladly escaped when he moved to college and Denver. He is sitting in a car working up the courage to go in and talk to Maudra, a family friend and someone who looked out for him when he was growing up. For all intents and purposes, Brooke is in El Dorado to look after his mother, Rose. She’s had a stroke and when he received a call to let him know he jumped at the chance to escape Denver. Now in his thirties, Brooke hasn’t been home in over ten years and you know he doesn’t want to be there. You also know something has happened at the residential care facility that he has ‘escaped’ from. Jed can’t come with him straight away. He’s a college professor and he has to give notice and work out the term. He also has to find another job close to El Dorado and he plans on joining Brooke later on. It isn’t easy maintaining a phone relationship, but Brooke and Jed do it. Jed can see the uncertain twenty four year old Brooke re emerge in his increasingly unsure and withdrawn behaviour, and Brooke is trying to push Jed away. Brooke is also very angry. Jed may be concerned, but he loves Brooke and he isn’t going to let this change how he feels about him, nor is he going to be pushed away.
Even though there are some good people in Brooke’s home town, the feeling of the book takes a darker tone from this point. The way a young boy was raised, a disturbed and disturbing mother, horrifying past experiences, a Bible Belt town and the fear of being discovered as gay. Bigotry and sheer twisting of the Bible are all on display. But in all fairness, decent people, some progressive thinkers and some changes are also shown. It is not a Bible-bashing book. It is fair and even keeled.
This morning, Pastor Bron taught on the uncertainty of life and how to find God’s presence in the midst of the ambiguity. I hadn’t ever heard a preacher like him before. It wasn’t like he was preaching and informing those underneath him from the vats of his wells of knowledge. He spoke as if he were a friend over for dinner and was discussing his life experiences.
So, Brooke is back in his mother’s life and, once again, she makes life hell for him. Initally she pretends she can’t speak and she growls at him as he cleans her filthy house, glares at him constantly as he tries to get rid of hoarded rubbish, and generally behaves atrociously. Nothing new for Rose. It is a constant battle for Brooke dealing with his mother and her woeful behaviour all over again. He fights feelings of wanting to slam his mother’s face into the door of his old bedroom, which, incidentally, his mother nailed up at some stage so it is impenetrable. He also has thoughts about her having another stoke, one that will finish her off. To Brooke, this seems like he is succumbing to Rose’s mentality. That he will become like her. As much as I kept thinking that no one on earth could blame him for having ill will towards his mother, I understand when you have lived with a monster that the fear of becoming that monster is ever-present. When Rose’s deception over speech is discovered she turns to the vitriol and psychological punishment of her son that she does so well. Brooke is the one person she can hurt the most, so she does –
“You walked right into that church, in front of God, Sue, and everybody, and sat down like you were good enough to be in there, with them knowing that you like to have your ass fucked by a huge cock, didn’t you?”
“The new preacher asked me to be a youth pastor for their youth group. And, yes, he knows. He still thought I was good enough to be there.”
“That new preacher must be like you. He must want to watch you fuck all their little boys, doesn’t he? Maybe he’ll even help you.”
I didn’t shut the door on the way out, but I managed to get into the car and drive out of view of her house before I pulled into the graveyard and broke down and wept.
The comparisons some people make between gay men and paedophilia is definitely a point in this book. I find it reprehensible that people feel this way, but they do, and Brandon Witt writes it powerfully. The one thing that Brooke has trained for, that he wants to do, he can’t for fear of consequences. That fear is realised – I’m not spoiling anything as the reader knows, but it is how it builds, unfolds, and how it is written that is well done. Brooke’s cousin, and best friend, Donnie, and the incoming pastor, Pastor Bron, want Brooke to help Donnie lead up the youth group. He would love to, he’s qualified to, but people don’t like gay men guiding their children, particularly in a church setting. People have a way of making things twisted. So, Brooke remains scared to death to do something what he both trained for and loves –
I looked back at Pastor Bron. ” I don’t think you understand what can happen, what people will say, what they are capable of accusing me of.”
The book comes to a huge head at a dinner that Brooke’s Aunt Sue plans as a means of bringing family and church together. Rose will be there, the outgoing pastor, the incoming pastor, as well as Maudra, the Durkes family, and Brooke. I want to say this, the use of Mark 7 : 21-23 was interesting. How wrong you are Pastor Thomas, and your ilk. Jesus was making a point about what’s in a person’s heart. What’s on the inside that says a lot about who we are as a person. What we say and what we do. To people who use scripture to try to batter people into the ground, and to judge, remember this, before you remove the straw from your brother’s eyes, first remove the rafter from your own. The Durkes, Maudra, and Brooke are more caring and kind and compassionate. Pastor Thomas, Twyla, and Rose…so full of hate, bigotry and judgement.
At times The Shattered Door reads like an autobiographical novel. However, you are more than aware it is fiction. It is indeed styled as fiction. But you just know that Brandon Witt poured something very personal into the writing. I believe this makes it more passionate as a read, more intimate, and helped make me feel such strong emotion throughout. It is absolutely sound from a psychological standpoint, which I need with a book like this, and I could go on and on about the dysfunctional family dynamic and the impact of organised religion on members of the LGBT community. Emotion is high throughout a lot of the book and it builds to a crescendo. It can be unrelenting. There are some god-awful characters in here, I loathed Rose, Pastor Thomas and Twyla. No excuses for their behaviour. We have choices to love or to hate and we have choices to change, no matter our start. And there are some wonderfully inspiring characters, like the Durkes family who I cheered for, cried for and had a lot of respect for. And if I could break bread with anyone at all from this book it would be Maudra Phelpman, one of my new favourite characters of all time – accent, squirrel, raccoon and all.
This book is not gay romance. It is LGBT writing that happens to have a gay man as the narrator, and that gay man happens to have a partner. But the book is about so much more. It is about being beaten down psychologically, trying to be a good person, trying to believe in yourself, despite adversity. Having a relationship with God. It is about creating another family and not allowing someone children are taught to love and obey from birth, no matter what, have so much power over us. Our parents are deified by us, by the Ten Commandments, and by society. It is hard to break the need, the instruction to be a good child worthy of love, no matter our age. That process is a slow one. Brandon Witt nailed that. It is also very much about religion and being a gay man trying to find himself when many have told him that it is a sin and an abomination. That he will go to Hell has been preached at him for years, on top of a mother who backs it up in her own toxic way.
If you like the sound of the review. If you are open to good writing, some parts that make you want to unleash your anger, that make you (want to) cry, that make you think, and make you glad that you did not grow up with Rose Morrison as your mother. If you want to read a book that brands you, then read the wonderful, painful, hopeful and heartfelt The Shattered Door.
“You’ll be fine.
Assuming the church don’t catch fire or nothin’ when you walk in with your blaze of gayness, that is.”
“Maudra! Shhh!” That was all I needed. There was no possible way that everyone didn’t already know about me being gay.