Bashed by Rick Reed
Three haters. Two lovers. And a collision course with tragedy. That October night, Donald and Mark had no idea their lives and love were about to be shattered by fag bashers, intent on pain, and armed with ridicule, fists, and an aluminum baseball bat. Bashed charts the course of a journey that encompasses suspense, horror, and–ultimately–romance.
Bashed is an intense story that is likely to resonate with readers and leave a lasting impression. The subject matter is intense and relevant even as many hope the kind of hatred, fear, and violence depicted is a thing of the past. While the characterization shines in this story, the writing is unfortunately uneven with some considerable problems. If you can get past these issues though, Bashed is well worth reading. The story and characters are likely to spark strong reactions in readers and question the complexities of people.
The story starts with a violent crime. Lovers Mark and Donald are leaving a local gay club one night when three young men decide to attack them. Mark is killed while Donald survives the attack but is changed by the events. What happens next is Donald’s struggle to pick up his life shown alongside the regret and fear of one of the attackers. Switching viewpoints to many of the cast beyond just these two, the story shows the complexities of people and the lasting impact one night can have on so many.
Despite the violent attack at the start of the book, this story really is character driven. Thankfully the characters are fully developed and wonderfully complex. Donald is the main narrator as he reminisces about his past with Mark, how they met, and their hopes for the future. They were only together for a brief time – six months – so the agony of losing that love so soon haunts Donald as well. He starts to see visions of Mark, which he believes Mark is a ghost unable to let go. Whether Donald is hallucinating or Mark is a supernatural element isn’t really clarified, although Donald is convinced he’s not imaging things. This aspect of the book is interesting and important to Donald eventually being able to go on with his life. Donald changes from a strong, aggressive man depicted prior to the attack to insecure, almost passive with rash mood swings. His brief attempts to pick up his life seem to center on anonymous sex at a leather club, a habit he used to indulge prior to meeting Mark.
Contrasting Donald’s intense and emotional struggle are the scenes from Justin’s perspective. Justin is a sixteen year old boy from a bad home with no parental supervision. He falls in with Randy, an older boy with a drug habit and pent up rage. Randy, Justin, and another friend, have frequently harassed gay men in the past but the instances had never escalated as they did the night they attacked Donald and Mark. Justin is a complicated young man and his depiction shows how a weak personality coupled with no self esteem and a desire for false bravado can produce horrific actions. Justin knows his actions are wrong and he knows they’re wrong while doing them but is too weak to remove himself from the situation. He has numerous opportunities to get away from Randy and bad circumstances but Justin is too desperate for Randy’s approval and wrapped up in his own teen angst to do the right thing. In fact, at almost every turn Justin knowingly does the wrong thing. The characterization of Justin is perhaps the best in the book as it shows the dynamics of a confused, angry teenager who doesn’t really want to hurt anyone but easily lets himself join a group mentality. He’s no misunderstood youth but neither is he one dimensional.
Some of the best scenes are between Justin and his gay uncle, Walter. Walter moves into the same apartment building as Donald and thus through a series of coincidences, Justin and furthermore Randy encounter Donald again. Here the character of Walter is perhaps the weakest as his view of Justin and his actions are somewhat weak and blind. Walter doesn’t really want to take the final step and parent Justin so instead he ignores a lot of the warning signs and problems with Justin. On the other hand, when the scenes are viewed through Justin’s perspective, the intensity increases and the real stability of the relationship comes through. Similarly Donald’s sister and even the subtle characterization of Randy all combine to present a stunning cast in often intense scenes.
The writing however keeps the story very fast and easy to read with Reed’s trademark economy of prose. Despite the intensity and difficult subject matter, the book never feels obsessively dark or depressing, letting the complex characterization tell the story with a minimum of extraneous description. There are some uncomfortable moments but the deft touch keeps this moving. Unfortunately the writing itself is also distracting while reading. Too often, brand placements seem to be included for no real reason. For example at the beginning, the story makes a point to say that Donald drives a Prius. This distracted me from the opening crime scene since a key plot point is about opening the car door and since the car is a Prius, why wouldn’t it have automatic locks and a car alarm on the keychain? This is a minor point I realize but this distraction is furthered when numerous brands are mentioned, taking the focus away from the actual story and focusing on a small, completely irrelevant detail. It doesn’t matter that Donald powered up is iMac, opened Firefox, and logged into his Gmail. The fact that Donald drives a Prius is not evident of his economic status nor do I think a statement that gay men, or Donald in particular, are more environmentally conscious so this level of random detail was distracting. The fact that it’s so pervasive in the story is also surprising and not to the betterment of the book.
Although Bashed is about an unfortunately common event, the complexities of the motivations, people, and reactions all allow something deeper to emerge. The tagline is “a love story” and truly this is depicted from the love between Mark and Donald, Walter and Justin, even the twisted affection between the closeted Randy and Justin, and finally the hope for new love. Despite the difficult subject matter, this story is anything but depressing. Though the book is not perfect and does have some problems, I was glad to read it regardless as I think most will be as well.
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