The Harvest of Inadequate Lives, by Patrick S. Stokes: #BookReview.

261 pages

Gay & Lesbian Adventure/Travel Adventure/Suspense Action Fiction

A book I probably wouldn’t have read, I came across this through a recommendation on Twitter from a follower there. Unusually, I bought it without reading the sample, but entirely on the basis of the synopsis. This made no mention that the lover referred to was male, so I was unprepared for the homoerotic content that came as a surprise.

In a sense, this lack of preparedness meant I read the early part of the book free from the possibility of unconscious prejudice as a heterosexual man. I’ve never been consciously prejudiced; in fact, one of my good friends when I was in the Royal Air Force was a self-confessed gay (though, at the time, in the early 1960s prior to the change in UK legislation, he had to keep this secret). It was a platonic friendship in which we shared an interest in photography. I knew he felt entirely differently and would’ve loved a sexual encounter, but I had no interest; I’ve never desired sexual activity with a man. I explain this here simply to let other potential readers know from what point of view I describe this book.

The story, written as a mix of confession and explanation, in the first person, is also in the form of an autobiographical account. Bearing in mind the nature of the confessions, it had better be fictional, too!

The book is generally well written, and the characters are conveyed in a manner that elicits empathy; an essential quality for me as a reader. There are odd instances of change of tense from present to past, sometimes occurring within a single sentence. These jarred but not enough to stop me reading. In fact, once I was engaged by this life story, I was determined to finish the book and discover what happened to the serial killer who is the narrating protagonist.

The tale is an education for those unfamiliar with the proclivities of homosexuals, describing their activities and giving insight into their thoughts, desires and sometimes ambivalent attitude toward women. It’s probably a reflection on my own view of sexual activity that I found the casual approach to liaisons, often entirely devoted to the sex act, as disturbing between men as I always have when portrayed between men and women. I’ve never liked the idea of casual sex: that’s not a judgment, simply the natural result of my respect for women and my personal association of sex with love.

There were a couple of chapters I skimmed, as these were mainly cataloguing sexual encounters that held no interest for me. I assume gay men will find some erotic element here, but there was none for me. And, had the activity been between men and women in these series of physical adventures, I would probably have still skimmed these passages. Personal taste, no more.

There is in this novel remarkable insight into the mind of the serial killer. The absolute lack of guilt, regret, or care for the life so easily ended, the body so simply disposed of, paints a picture of extreme disassociation from humanity. Yet the murderer is also capable of deep and enduring love for his siblings and for the few men who touch him and remain with him for long periods. This duality is deeply disturbing, but written so well that the reader accepts it as normal for the narrator.

Is this man evil, or is he mentally ill, or, perhaps both?

Undoubtedly a courageous piece of writing, this novel is easy to read and enjoy in some parts, difficult and even repugnant in others, yet the compulsion to read on is almost constant (the passages of casual sex aside).

I’m still uncertain whether I’d have given this story a chance had I known at the start that it dealt with gay love, but I’m glad I did. It’s given me insights I would otherwise have missed, an understanding deeper for knowing how such men view others. Of course, the fact that the narrator is also a serial killer distorts the picture so that it can’t be applied to gay men as a general group. But the passages of sane encounter do provide information and knowledge of an area of life that might otherwise remain unexplored and unknown to the majority of us. A troubling but worthwhile read.

 [Any review is a personal opinion. No reviewer can represent the view of anyone else. The best we can manage is an honest reaction to any given book.]