Finlater

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

Hold this heavy, beautifully designed book in your hands and you might wonder what sort of mediocre writing all the artistry is trying to obscure. Forget it, though, because it turns out that the new publishing company's debut is a winner, thanks to the spare, deeply affecting writing of Ruff, a New York City short-story writer who has penned a unique and arresting novel about two boys in love.

Hold this heavy, beautifully designed book in your hands and you might wonder what sort of mediocre writing all the artistry is trying to obscure. Forget it, though, because it turns out that the new publishing company's debut is a winner, thanks to the spare, deeply affecting writing of Ruff, a New York City short-story writer who has penned a unique and arresting novel about two boys in love.

Set in Cincinnati in 1969, the tale is told from the point of view of Cliffy, a 13-year-old African-American kid who has a high aptitude for (and slight obsession with) spelling. He lives in the Findlater Gardens Projects with his two brothers, his hardworking mom and his no-good dad, who has returned, in the first chapter, after a long absence. In that clever scene we get Cliffy sitting in a tub, catching sight of mysterious headlights in the window, then unceremoniously meeting his father as he barges into the bathroom to take a piss. The uncomfortable eroticism in the air sets the stage for what's to come—both with inappropriate loser-Daddy and also Noah, the precocious, brace-faced Jewish classmate who becomes Cliffy's first lust and love. The two face plenty of prejudice just for walking down the street together, with passersby shouting "bitches" and "Oreos" at them, but the real connection—which starts out with mutual "milking" sessions and turns into highly charged sex romps of all kinds—becomes a brave relationship of a whole different kind.The connection between the boys is priceless, from their wonderfully natural intimacy to their false bravado that gets quickly chipped down to honesty through discussions about how Jews are like blacks and about the boys' fathers, each tragically flawed in very different ways. Though Ruff's language is a bit off at times—peppered with colloquialisms like "Us kids' birthdays were different" that seem jarringly out of step with his otherwise proper use of English—it's mostly just evocative and mesmerizing. And the story itself is a gem.

By Shawn Stewart Ruff. Quote Editions, $15.50.