These Things Happen

Now and then along comes a candidate for the Great American Novel

Review by Grady Harp

A very odd thing happens when reading Richard Kramer’s utterly brilliant novel THESE THINGS HAPPEN: after reading each page there is a reluctance to turn to the next one, as though doing so just might let all the little wonders of the story, the characters, the words, the ideas, the wholly original manner of intermingling the spoken word tattooed into fragments of thought processes or descriptions of place evaporate. But of course they don’t and by the end of the first chapter the reader realizes that every page is just as unique and satisfying, allowing these little technical bits of magic to flutter around the atmosphere as we grow into the story itself.

And what a way to make that story! Kramer’s tale is a poignant one: Wesley is a bright young sophomore in high school who is living with his father Kenny and Kenny’s life partner (it takes a full book to finally come to a name for their relationship) George in an apartment above the little New York City theater district restaurant that George owns (with Kenny). Wesley’s parents are divorced and his mother Lola has remarried an ophthalmologist Ben and Wesley has been living with Lola and Ben until it was decided that Wesley and Kenny needed to nurture their father son relationship. George, a wondrous character this George, comes from a theater background and lives in that world psychologically much of the time. He is close to Wesley and bonds more with the boy than Kenny does.

The turning point of the story comes when Wesley’s best friend Theo wins an election in school and abruptly announces to the audience that he is gay. Wesley is a bit surprised but accepting and the two boys wonder is being gay a choice and when and how do you ‘discover’ you’re gay? The boys decide that the question should be posed to Wesley’s father and his lover since they are very comfortably gay – or are they? Kenny is a major legal figure in the Gay Rights movement and George is not secretive about his theatrical/domestic/culinary existence. But when the question is posed, neither Kenny nor George knows how to respond. And then tragedy happen: Wesley and Theo are victims of a gay bashing, a factor that draws Lola and Ben into the arena with Kenny and George and from there the remainder of the story dissects the lives and thoughts of these characters who discover aspects of their philosophies and feelings about each other in a manner that can only be termed transcendent.

Each chapter is named for one of the characters – Wesley, George, Kenny, Lola, Ben, Theo and an insert from two sidebar characters Jerry and Lenny – and each of these chapters allows that named character to reveal his side of the story. In addition to writing one of the most touching and revealing novels about contemporary people and how we relate and communicate, Kramer inserts passages that are so perfectly sculpted they deserve sharing: George and Kenny – ‘We don’t know each other; we never have. Knowing is the father of cherishing. It is where it begins, and ends, too. To allow that is the gift. And it has not, in this time, been given.’ George says to Wesley “But all you need to do is ‘be, alive. Don’t worry about ‘being’ it.” and `Time can afford to be lazy because it has nothing but time.’ and from Kenny ‘But you press on; you can’t turn away, you face the world not as you find it but as it finds you, because it will. Definitely use that, I think; it’s the sort of statement by someone who will one day be assassinated.’ and from Lola, ‘But I always know what I think, I have to; it matters to me. It’s what civilized people do.’

But writing this note about Richard Kramer’s gift of a book immediately feels ludicrous. Can anyone do justice in commenting on such a phenomenal achievement? Perhaps. But the only real joy will come in reading this book yourself, not once, but several times. If this novel is not selected for the major literary prizes of the year, this reader will be surprised. Think Jamie O’Neill’s ‘At Swim, Two Boys’, think Colm Tóibín’s ‘Mothers and Sons’ or ‘The Master.’ No, just read Richard Kramer.

Grady Harp, April 2013

ISBN: 9781609530891

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