Author ~ John Inman
Publisher ~ DSP Publications
Published ~ 10th May 2016
Genre ~ M/M Contemporary Romance, Spiritual
It’s an old, old story: a tale of the consequences of good and evil. Plus the limitless power of faith and love, and how they can forever change an empty life.
When Charlie Strickland, a reclusive artist living in the backwoods of Indiana, opens his door to find a handsome young stranger standing naked on his front porch, an astounding odyssey begins.
It doesn’t take Charlie long to fall head over heels in love with his oddly innocent visitor. The young man calls himself Joe. Just Joe. But when amazing things begin to happen, Charlie soon comes to realize who Joe really is.
What follows will turn Charlie’s world, and everyone else’s, upside down.
Color me confused. A long-time fan of Mr. Inman’s beautiful writing, I can’t remember a single book he’s written that I didn’t love. From the brilliant humor of his Belladonna Arms series, to the deep horror of Willow Man, Mr. Inman can lead me almost anywhere, with a smile on my face.
There are parts of The Second Son that moved me profoundly, moments of great wisdom, beauty and grace that touched my soul and inspired me. Mr. Inman’s words often rise to poetry, their rhythm, their metaphors a revelation:
The sun was rising across the lake, and as he watched, Charlie saw a fish fling itself out of the water as if it too wished to gaze upon the crystal beauty of that cerulean sky without the boundaries of a watery prison getting in the way.
His life, too, had begun the day Joe laid his hands on it by knocking at his door. Everything that happened before that moment seemed now of little consequence to Charlie. It was as if he had been merely vamping to the empty beat of his existence, waiting for the real music to begin.
Charlie is the hero of this story, a skeptical artist of major talent whose marriage to his college sweetheart fell apart over the last few years after he revealed his bisexuality. Following his divorce, he withdrew from the world. He still sells his paintings, pretty successfully, through his erstwhile agent. But he lives alone, with his dog, in a modest cabin on the shore of a lake with no name. Charlie thinks he’s happy, or at least OK, until a stunningly beautiful naked young man shows up at his door, unannounced. Well, not entirely unannounced if you count the local earthquake and the brilliant light that painted across the sky immediately preceding his appearance at Charlie’s door.
Thus begins Mr. Inman’s most ambitious book to date, a modern-day retelling of the Jesus story and the hopes and miracles of the Second Coming, though that is not quite accurate, because Jesus is not coming a second time, his younger brother, Joe, is the new Messiah.
This is not a spoiler. Even Mr. Inman’s own blurb for The Second Son makes it pretty clear where the book is going: “It’s an old, old story: a tale of the consequences of good and evil. Plus the limitless power of faith and love, and how they can forever change an empty life.”
Mr. Inman’s plot differs radically from the New Testament in only a few ways. There’s neither prohibitions against nor condemnations of gays in the author’s retelling – The Father created love, and all love is good, all its forms and faces are to be celebrated. Another difference is that Joe, the Messiah, and Charlie, the painter, fall in love. But don’t expect any hot scenes; their love is about spirit, inspiration and innocence. Their love will endure through the ages, but then they will be light, not flesh. Can light enjoy truly first-rate intimate relationships?
Mr. Inman expends lots of words and energy trying to explain the inexplicable, such as why a loving God, a doting father, keeps making sons who are destined to be tortured and then murdered. They’re supposed to provide the object lesson that mankind needs to improve and perfect itself, that causes the world to seek peace, solace and love. It didn’t work very well, the first time, did it?
Well, I get the feeling, as I read this book, that The Father is seriously ticked off that He can’t seem to get his message across. Last time, he used a flood to cleanse the flock, the next time, He promised fire.
This is where the author lost me entirely. What kind of vicious, vengeful God is the one in The Second Son? No offers of redemption, no souls saved, the bad people suffer mercilessly (and very graphically, I might add). No acts of contrition allowed, no forgiveness granted, no credit for remorse, just unremitting pain and suffering through all eternity with no second chances. And since Mr. Inman seems to have written the book so unremittingly Christian (Baptist, to boot), the reader is left wondering if every Muslim, Jew, Buddhist and Atheist on the planet was also condemned to burn alive, since they don’t follow the teachings of Jesus?
I don’t know whether Mr. Inman was condemning religion with the more obviously irrational and cruel ravings of a ticked-off God, or just interpreting the New Testament gospels in a modern context. There’s not much to guide the reader – but it’s entirely possible that I just missed the boat and didn’t “get” The Second Son as some sort of religious irony. Certainly something like that might be at work under the hood here, but Mr. Inman might have given us a little more obvious rendering of his intent.
At one point, I actually found myself offended and annoyed by Mr. Inman’s wholly intentional misogyny. Trust me, you don’t want to be a female in the author’s imagined world of the Second Coming. Just for kicks, God destines a homophobic woman to be the modern Judas, and punishes her relentlessly, despite the fact that her transgressions were guided by Him. She does what He demands. He punishes her for it.
Eve’s legacy still lived in his father’s eyes. All that was good, and all that was evil, was centered in woman. She gave life as easily as she doled out death. She brought happiness to man while she tortured his very soul.
I’ve never before run across a single word of misogyny in John Inman’s writing, yet this book fairly reeks of it. That’s why I opened this review noting that “I’m confused”. I am. Was this intended as a parody, a horror story in the guise of the Second Coming, or was it intended to be the love story of the Ages?
To be honest, I have no idea. Which, itself, is a problem. I ended up with a gut feeling that Mr. Inman’s prodigious talent fell victim to overreach. Interestingly enough, I’ve recently read two other gay-themed books that dealt with God and Heaven, and they were both brilliant. That’s likely due to the fact that they treated Heaven and Hell as allegories, not as literal truths, and leavened their descriptions of “The Father” with kindness, forgiveness, love and compassion.
Still, The Second Son is extraordinarily well-written. If you’re upset or triggered by descriptions of extreme cruelty, you might want to tread carefully here, but if not, there is much moving, exquisite prose to be had in this book. And, just perhaps, you’ll “get” whatever it is I seem to have missed.
Meet John Inman
John Inman has been writing fiction since he was old enough to hold a pencil. He and his partner live in beautiful San Diego, California. Together, they share a passion for theater, books, hiking and biking along the trails and canyons of San Diego or, if the mood strikes, simply kicking back with a beer and a movie. John's advice for anyone who wishes to be a writer? "Set time aside to write every day and do it. Don't be afraid to share what you've written. Feedback is important. When a rejection slip comes in, just tear it up and try again. Keep mailing stuff out. Keep writing and rewriting and then rewrite one more time. Every minute of the struggle is worth it in the end, so don't give up. Ever. Remember that publishers are a lot like lovers. Sometimes you have to look a long time to find the one that's right for you.