Friday, October 23, 2015

Review: Cravings Creek by Mel Bossa

81B4Mkg-4qL._SL1500_Title ~ Cravings Creek

Author ~ Mel Bossa

Publisher ~ Samhain Publishing 

Published ~ 18th August 2015

Genre ~ Contemporary M/M Romance





For the man he loves, he will fight—body, mind, and soul.

Fourteen years ago, on a sun-drenched summer day on the banks of Craving’s Creek, Ryde swore to his best friend, Alistair, he’d never be alone in the world. Though Alistair was destined for the priesthood, there was something beyond holy about the first kiss they shared.

But a fun camping trip went horribly wrong when Alistair was involved in a horrific incident.

Now, at age thirty-one, Ryde’s life is a mess of alcohol and the painful imprint of his last look into Alistair’s desperate eyes. Since the evil they encountered on that shore, his first love has been lost to him—until he learns a friend’s wedding is to be officiated by a priest named Father Alistair Genet.

Amid the rush of emotions, one thought crystallizes: Ryde’s love for Alistair not only has never died, it’s stronger than ever. Stronger than God. But it may be no match for the church…and the repressed memories that are slowly tearing Alistair’s mind apart.

Warning: Contains a drunken confessional, a self-destructive clergyman, and a fight to the spiritual death for love.

Alan’s Review

Craving’s Creek is a difficult book. It’s heart-rending. But it’s also beautiful, and beautifully written. Sadly, it’s also all too believable.

The book deals with big themes, honestly and painfully, things like the intersection of religion and the aftermath of sexual abuse. It deals with two boys torn apart by an act of violence, and the years it takes for them to find each other again, to learn to trust, to start to heal. Ms. Bossa takes us on an intense journey into young love, destruction, the exploitation of the spirit, two young lives falling apart, two young lives coming back together again.

This is the story of two boys, Ryde and Alistair. They met as young neighbors across the street from one another, Alistair perched in the big tree in his side yard like an angel hovering, ever so delicately, just above the branch beneath him. For Ryde, that’s exactly what Alistair was - an angel. Apparently, that’s equally true for Alistair’s parents. Very religious Catholics, they were committed to raising Alistair for their church, preparing him to enter seminary and become a priest once he was of age. They had a lot invested in Alistair: their immortal souls, their own redemption through the gift of their son to God. Whether it was because of his parents’ pressure, or just the way he was, Alistair showed great spiritual insight from a very early age, so his future in the church seemed to be foreordained. Of course, when he went away to seminary he would have to leave his best friend, Ryde, the boy who touches his soul, and that saddened him.

Aside from the demands put upon Alistair by his parents, the two boys lived an idyllic childhood. They were a world unto themselves, all the other needed, as much brothers as friends.

Until that dreadful day.

It was an innocent picnic in the woods and fields near Craving’s Creek. Ryde’s parents were there. The boys decided to walk down to the creek and dive off the rocks; which they did. They shared a kiss, their first one, the love between them blossoming, growing, offering a promise of more to come. Sunning themselves on a rock in the creek, a monster appears, a huge man with a feral look and raw, brute power. The next thing Ryde knows, Alistair is gone, ripped away by the monster, Ryde’s head cracked open by a blow from a stone, and the last memory Ryde has of his beloved, gentle Alistair, is his eyes, wide in terror begging Ryde to save him… just before the black takes Ryde.

Ryde awakens in the hospital with a concussion. No one will tell him what happened to Alistair, though they assure him he’s alive and well. When he’s released from the hospital, he races to Alistair’s to find the house empty and deserted, the whole family gone.

And that’s the last he heard from or about Alistair for the next fourteen years.

How Alistair has been since that tragic day is a mystery, but we do know that Ryde has not fared well. He was the survivor, and no one particularly worries about the survivor, no one makes sure he gets the counseling he needs, but the loss of his beloved Alistair has haunted every day of his life for almost a decade-and-a-half. Ryde has not taken care of himself. He has buried his horror, loneliness and loss in the bottle. He just can’t bring himself to care about anything, including himself.

That is, until the day he receives a wedding invitation from a friend, and the officiant named in it is Father Alistair Genet. Can it be his Alistair? Is it possible? Has he finally found him?

Sure enough, the Father Alistair officiating at the wedding is his Alistair. But his Alistair runs at the sight of Ryde. After fourteen years, just seeing his best friend and almost-lover must bring back all the pain and horror of that day, and Alistair runs, as if from the Devil.

But Ryde does not give up. What follows is a battle of wills between the man who never stopped loving Alistair, the man he was meant to be with, his soul mate, and the Catholic Church, which has laid claim to the hapless Alistair, who doesn’t seem to have a say in the matter. He has become their “Holy Grail”, the ascetic, unworldly holy man who will lead the church out of the desert. Certain interests in the church have a big stake in treating Alistair as though he’s the Second Coming. They have mistaken his damage for holiness. They need him to have rejected worldliness for sainted spirituality in order to validate their own beliefs.

Ryde isn’t buying it. He knows Alistair and he can see, with the eyes of probably the only one around him who actually loves him for who he is, that this is a broken and hurting Alistair. He doesn’t need to lead the faithful to redemption, he needs to find healing and solace for his own bruised soul. While the fathers need him to help restore the faith of the rapidly-diminishing faithful, only Ryde wants to restore Alistair himself, not as a symbol, but as a loving boy who missed a huge chunk of his life after being robbed of all the love, hope and confidence every young man deserves to experience, as part of becoming a man.

Fortunately, Ryde does manage to get Alistair away from those who would use him as the exemplar of their own beliefs and symbol for their own agenda, and the still-beautiful Alistair is ready to reclaim his soul and his future. This is not just part of the story of these two loving boys, but an allegorical take on the eternal battle between the forces of religion and the forces of humanity. Humanity ultimately wins, compassion triumphs and true redemption will be found.

I wouldn’t dream of telling you how that redemption comes about - it’s the dramatic high-point of the novel, and it’s an extraordinarily powerful piece of writing by Ms. Bossa. There is no specific “happily-ever-after”, no banal and predictable epilogue with the two boys riding off into the sunset. There is only the promise of one, the restoration of the possibilities, and the likelihood that these two boys will take the rest of this journey together. There is, assuredly, a lot of healing left to go, but by the end of “Craving’s Creek”, both young men are strong enough, together, to make it through. Alistair regains his humanity. Ryde gains a hint of the faith he long-ago rejected, a faith in a loving God, a belief in goodness, not a slavish devotion to ritual and dogma, which is more than enough for Alistair.

This is a stunningly beautiful book. The author took great pains to let the reader share in the pain and desolation that haunts the victims of childhood sexual abuse, without painting them with the black brush of despair. Thoughtfully, she spares the reader the particulars of the abuse, and instead focuses on the aftermath and the first steps toward healing. Neither boy will ever forget or “get over” the single event that informed so much of their lives, but they will move on by virtue of the gifts of solace and faith they provide each other, through their love, and that is probably the happiest and most profound ending a book can have.

Ms. Bossa is an extraordinarily talented writer. Her insights are never presented as exposition, but are expressed, instead, through the actions and reactions of the characters. The lives of the characters are the voice of her moral judgment; their most intimate thoughts and heart-rending dialogue, the very language of her message.

This will be a difficult read because you will come to care about these boys so deeply, so profoundly that you will share their pain. But I promise you, it will be well-worth reading “Craving’s Creek” to hold hands with these beautiful young men throughout their heartbreaking, but important journey. And this wonderful novel will be worth reading for the pure brilliance and beauty of the author’s polished and moving prose. If you want to read something that reaches way down into your soul, don’t miss “Craving’s Creek”.


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