Sutphin Boulevard

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You’ll think that after In the Company of Shadows I’ll look for something lighter. And well, I guess I did for a time.

Until I find myself unable to go past chapter two of every book I read without throwing the word ‘shallow’ and asking ‘You call this sexual tension? You call this angst?’

It’s an unfair comparison in the face of genre difference and world building. But the lingering scenes that ICoS left me are still so fresh. I still have nightmares over the hell that Boyd experienced at Aleixo’s. Right then, I know that the best way to keep my reading streak is to open another book from same authors. At this point, I’m done with 1/27 so I turn to their solo projects. Which led me to Sutphin Boulevard.

Sutphin Boulevard is an okay book for me. I think I’ll love everything with Hassell and Ais’ names written on the first page. But the affinity has more to do with the writing style than the story itself.

This one is depressing on its own right. Michael, our protagonist, has been lucky enough to be born into a dysfunctional family where his father is an alcoholic, his brother a bum and his mother dead. To put a cherry on top, he has a homophobic uncle who’s prejudiced against him and his best friend, Nunzio.

On the surface, he’s pretty much survived as your typical teacher at a high school in Brooklyn. He’s preparing for a trip around Italy that it’s all dandy and happy except when Joseph, his father, comes back to haunt them with a breaking news.

It’s a downward spiral after that. Intoxication after next that you would think our main guy will drown in his alcohol-induced vomit.

What made impact on me (more than the attempt at romance) are Michael’s problems and how people around him responded.

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It’s so real, how each of them try to pitch in every aggravating piece of advice like going past depression is as easy as snapping your fingers. When characters say, “Tell me what happened,” or “How can I make it better?” when all Michael wants is to be left alone because talking about it will just make him down the next bottle of Johnny Walker. It resonates well – the human nature of wanting to stroke your ego and become the hero that saves the day of that lonely friend.

The book says to drop it. When you try to interfere, you just give an impression that you’re nothing but a narcissistic whore so give them a breather and stop making them your science project.

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Michael needs an intrinsic motivation to make an effort to improve his situation. He’s aware of his problems but lacks the reason to move forward. He’s as egocentric as the rest of the characters and seems to feel that he has it worst (he doesn’t). It won’t help to have preachy outsiders nagging on his life.

On the topic of romance, I have nothing to say apart from cliché. Michael and Nunzio could’ve made it less complicated if they’ve been straightforward from the get-go. But since it’s part of the plot, they just have to lose sleep poring how not to ruin a twenty-year investment on friendship over the call of their sexual urges. Which does the exact opposite, mind you. It’s pretty trivial if you weigh it against Michael’s family problems. Or maybe it’s because I’ve never loved like them before. I don’t grasp where all the angst is coming from.

I decided to give this 2/5 (following GR ratings). I like how Hassell is able to tackle the worst in human beings. He’s very good at displaying how ego and miscommunication can ultimately destroy relationships. Sadly, the romance bit and ending didn’t convince me.

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