Book Beat December 09 2000 (2)
Christopher Rice’s debut novel is a stunning piece of Southern Gothic fiction, weaving together beautiful imagery, complex characters and dark, Southern moodiness to create a compelling tale of friendship, betrayal, alcoholism, homosexuality, rape, alienation, suicide, insanity and incest.
At the center of the story are four young teens who find their friendship ripped apart by dirty secrets and unspoken attraction as they begin their freshman year of high school. Greg and Brandon become football heroes, Meredith becomes a bulimic alcoholic and Stephen, well, Stephen becomes the target of his former friends’ homophobic torture and bullying. As the story unfolds, Steven’s own personal hell leads to a compelling mystery, blossoming romance and a few shocking twists and turns that leave no one unscathed.
Rice tackles the mature themes of his tale head on, writing with an ease not often found in first time novelists, let alone someone so young. He has clearly inherited his mother’s gift for building suspense, as well as his father’s gift for poetic phrasing. His love scenes, in particular, are so beautifully tender and honest they may make heterosexual readers a little uncomfortable. In fact, the homoerotic nature of the story as a whole will probably turn many readers off in spite of the fact that Rice handles this subject with thoughtfulness and grace.
Amidst the beauty though, lies a major flaw: Rice’s love of melodrama. There are, in fact, a few scenes in Density that are so ridiculously outrageous, readers may literally find themselves wincing in disbelief (the gunfight comes to mind). While many of the book’s plot twists play more like a daytime soap than a respectable piece of literature, it’s easy to forgive young Rice these mistakes because, in the end, his melodramatic turns help strengthen the fabric of his story’s Southern Gothic myth.
Ultimately, A Density of Souls is a thought-provoking saga of life and lust, secrets and shame, and the darkness that drives people to destroy what they fear. It’s a tale so mysterious yet so honest, it will likely resonate with anyone who reads it.