Thursday, May 23, 2013

Review: Surprising Myself by Christopher Bram

Surprising MyselfSurprising Myself by Christopher Bram
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4.5 Stars

Christopher Bram published an Op-Ed in the Advocate about his experience as a gay Boy Scout:

"Being a Boy Scout saved my life," writes Bram. "I was a bookish, introverted kid, shy and withdrawn, unhappy and easily bullied. I was also gay, although I didn't know it yet. I should've been miserable. But being a scout got me out of myself and into the world."

As I was reading Surprising Myself, I had CNN on when I heard that finally, the Boy Scouts of America had voted to ease their ban on their gay youth members but had not removed it from their leaders. This vote places an end to a hundred years’ worth on banned gay boy scouts.

Such a timely announcement when I was reading Surprising Myself, a tale about a seventeen-year-old Joel who manages to convince himself that he can’t be gay if he’s straight . After four years of living with relatives in Switzerland, seventeen-year-old Joel Scherzenlieb finds himself in the United States for the summer, working at a Boy Scout camp. There, he meets nineteen-year-old Corey Cobbett, a fellow counselor who's the only person Joel wants to be friends with. Soon, Joel’s sarcastic, distant CIA father shows up and whisks him away to live with his mother, grandmother, and older sister on a farm in Virginia—he’s not going back to Switzerland after all. As his father pleads poverty and his dreams of going to college vanish, Joel faces his longest year yet. But everything changes when Corey returns to his life, bringing with him the discovery and excitement of reciprocal love.

The tale goes on to narrate the growth of Joel. His passed and failed experiments on gay and straight life, his love for Corey, his indiscretions – all in the effort to find out if he is really gay or not. Although his actions test Corey’s trust in him, it is a necessary experience for Joel, deep down, hates himself. Bram’s comment of how he was gay and yet did not realize it mimics the plight of Joel.

This is a growing-up as well as a coming-out story set in the 1970s, when the United States had barely gotten through their African American panic and were now thrust into a world of homosexuality, the time of homosexual panic. In a way, although this is set in the ‘70s, this book very much reflects the world we live in today. Advocates of the anti-gay movement are panicking as they see their foundations crumble under the cry for change and acceptance in America. Although it is slow to come, more and more States and countries are opening their minds and laws to finally accept that the GLBT community is here to stay so they may as well accept them or face the consequences of denial and self-loathing that they are living with this today, in their lifetime.

First published in 1987, Christopher Bram worked on this novel for seven years, and in this process he produced three drafts that were much longer than this final version. Although this is not an autobiography, it slowly turned to one as in the process of writing and rewriting, he meets his own Corey and what was a comedy of errors became a more meaningful story about love as a situation.

If I have to mention one weakness in Surprising Myself, it would be that of the sub-story that is Liza and her husband Robert Kearney. The author focused on this messed up relationship quite a bit, however, I do see that it parallels Joel’s own unhappiness at his own happiness.

Of all of the written words in this book, below is probably my favorite:

“ We were a household, a family, only by accident. There was no authority to follow or react against. Corey and I were only an accident, without Corey’s journal or my feelings having enough authority to justify or condemn us. There was no telling what would become of us. But here on the roof, the two of us straining every muscle yet remaining perfectly still, grinning at each other to distract ourselves from the buzzing in our arms, the accident froze a few minutes and felt as permanent as knowledge.”

In time for #Pride Month: Five great titles by Christopher Bram make their @OpenRoad ebook debuts. Learn more:

Review based on ARC sent by Netgalley.

View all my reviews

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