Practical Purposes by Yeva Weist – review

Rating: 6.5/10 ★★★★★★½☆☆☆ 
Title: Practical Purposes
Author: Yeva Weist
Genre: Black comedy
URL: Once upon a bookstore
Price: US $3.50
Other Information/warnings: violence, language, homophobic attitudes

Summary [from the publisher]:
What should a white Irish Catholic boy wear to his black, gay lover’s family funeral?
A gun, if he’s smart.
Good old boys and the dog from hell await Zachary O’Boyle when he arrives in 1977 Salem, Texas, hoping to show his support after his boyfriend James’s aunt dies. By the time he gets there, James is already missing, and the only locals willing to help find him are no match for Ole “King” Cole’s plan to keep James in the closet where all family skeletons belong.
Practical Purposes is a bitingly funny look at the personal truths behind prejudice, homophobia and other precious family memories.

My review: I bought this one after seeing a rave review at Dear Author, which in turn referenced another rave review by Mrs Giggles. I had high expectations. They were not entirely disappointed.

Negatives first. The editing is sloppy – there is simply no excuse for ‘loose’ for ‘lose’ in professional work. The HTML document was wonkily formatted before Chapter 12. Again, not professional. The issues to do with the writing itself were wandering and confusing POV – if I hadn’t paid for this, and if Jayne at DA hadn’t raved about it, I’d have tossed it, because this kinds of thing bugs me no end – and too much info dumping. It’s also a bit on the short side and ends all a bit quickly, if hilariously.

These kind of things tend to sour me on a book unless I adore everything else about it, and I didn’t. However, I did like a lot of things, far more than I disliked. The humour, when it’s there, is really funny. The characterisation is terrific, dark and bizarre and vivid, like those in a David Lynch film (Mrs G referenced the Coen brothers – very apt.) There are very few people to like in this – the really likeable ones are female or gay, or both – but they’re nonetheless real. None more than Miss Odessa herself, the kind of old woman one admires and avoids 🙂

The scene staging is strong and sharp, the setting  at once mundane and horrifying, as if ‘What’s eating Gilbert Grape’ had been directed by Hitchcock, while the plot is grotesque,  with the madcap sense of criminal idiocy that again marks the Coen Brothers work. The comparisons with films come easily because the story is told cinematically (which doesn’t always work – the POV issues I mentioned are more forgivable in a movie than a written story), with people almost narrating the voiceovers to their own scenes at times.

This is not a nice polite book with honest upright black people, and hardworking sons of toil. This is a tale of venal, bigoted, stupid jerks, with a few bright sparks who redeem them from utter squalor. It could have been a lot better, tightened up. But for $3.50, it’s decent value and good fun. Give it a go.

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