Light by ‘Nathan Burgoine
I had a pretty good idea that I was going to love this book before I ever bought it. That’s because I was already acquainted with much of ‘Nathan’s short fiction, having been introduced to it when he and I each placed stories in Saints and Sinners 2013: New Fiction from the Festival. It was my first experience being published but he already had an impressive writing resume, dozens of published stories, and was gearing up to release this, his debut novel.
I reviewed seven of his stories here on my blog as part of 2014’s Short Stories 365 project, which I undertook after watching him (following editor Becky Cochrane’s lead) do the same thing the year before.
‘Nathan has a knack for writing speculative fiction that doesn’t simply use magic as shorthand for being different and call it a day, but bestows magic on characters who are already facing discrimination because they are gay, thereby creating an opportunity for them to fight back against their oppressors. A recent piece in the New York Times (“A New Day for Gay Plays?” December 27th, 2016) posited that we have moved beyond the time when a character’s homosexuality is the defining issue of a work, the thing that must be debated and resolved. It’s now, they said, just one element of the back story, where the real issue is parenting, or finding lasting love, or surviving a natural disaster. Certainly this is true, not only in the theatre but on television and to a lesser extent in movies and books. But should that be the case, when people are still being murdered for being transgender, savagely beaten for a public showing of same-gender affection, thrown from their homes, or denied services? If no hate crime would have happened if the person hadn’t appeared to be outside the heterosexual, cisgender standard, then sexuality and gender are still very much the issue, we need to acknowledge that, and people who feel the effects of that violence and discrimination need stories that are cathartic to them.
Light starts out by introducing one of the abilities that will mark the main character as an outsider among outsiders: telekinesis. The author doesn’t just show it to us, though. No, he shows us his main character, Kieran Quinn, witness someone who possesses telekinesis being murdered for it, even as an unseen presence broadcasts a command inside Kieran’s mind: Hide!
Could the stakes be any higher? No. Add to that the fact that in that opening scene the main character is a child and his mother is in a hospital bed, dying, and you can’t help but empathize with him. When in the next chapter he’s grown up, out, and enjoying his yearly vacation by attending the opening event of his local Pride Week—until, that is, all hell breaks loose thanks to a fire-and-brimstone preacher with extraordinary abilities at his command and vengeance on his mind—you know this is going to be one heck of a story, and it is. It’s got everything: a big Good vs. Evil social justice battle, quality friendships, a compelling romance, even a couple of animal companions. It pulled me in and refused to let me put the book down again until I’d reached the end, which is something I love and doesn’t happen often enough. Really, you should read this one, and then check out the rest of his work.
Bold Strokes Books, 2013
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