August 26th, 2007


Breakfast With Scot - by Michael Downing

cinchntouch posted about this book, and was compelling enough for me to get online and order it, and put it at the top of my list. It also helped that I only had one book in the house which had not been finished, and I was 3/4 of the way done with it.

Nutshell review: Excellent concept, poorly executed.

The concept is this: A gay couple adopts a grade school aged boy, sight unseen. Boy shows up wearing girlie clothes and accessories, wreaking of perfume. The book attempts to follow the couple and the boy from the opening of the school term to the Christmas break. 

The biggest problem with the execution, as I see it, is the way the couple adopts the boy is contrived, and patently illegal. Sam and Ed are the couple (Ed is telling the story, we don't even know his name until about the fifth chapter - and then it pops up as if we've been hearing it all along). Scot is the Boy. Sam's brother had been living with Julie. Scot is Julie's son. Billy is not Scot's father. Scot's father is alive, but all we hear about him is a vague statement that he wants nothing to do with Scot. Julie is a junkie, and dies by shooting air into her veins. We are not sure if she did it or someone else killed her. She leaves a will in which she "leaves" Scot to Sam. Sam and Ed take the will to a lawyer and get custody of Scot.

This is where the credibility fails for me. I'm supposed to believe that a gay couple who are not related to the boy, are given custody of him based on a will left by a junkie? In Massachusetts? I don't think so.

The next hurdle to overcome is Scot is being kicked out of school before noon on a daily basis because the principal doesn't like the gay way he dresses and acts. And the gay couple raising him just accepts this? I don't buy that at all. And they try to get Scot to tone it down.

I could go on and on, so I will for a little bit.  There are subplots. Scot has friends, Scot has enemies. Scot has enemies he does favors for so they will beat up his other enemies and lay off him. Every playmate Scot encounters ends up dressed as a cheerleader and joins Scot in doing the splits. Ed works at a dysfunctional magazine. Sam is a chiropractor. We hear almost nothing about Sam's day to day life, but we hear major details of Ed's, none of which make any sense.

On a sentence by sentence basis, the writing is very good. But as a book, Breakfast With Scot is unstructured, bounces all over the place, is replete with shallow, unreal characters who have shallow, unreal interactions with the main characters. And the book ends - literally and figuratively - up in the air. Another 50 pages and we might have found out what happens to Scot, but instead the book ends abruptly in the middle of a conversation between Scot and Ed on a plane en route to DC where Scot is supposed to meet the father of the woman who is engaged to Sam's brother. At this point we are not sure if Scot will be staying with Sam and Ed, or if he's going to be adopted by a straight couple. After the trip to DC, all was supposed to be made clear.

There are some technical problems with the way the book is presented. The cover art shows a boy in football gear circa 1930. Scot is the antithesis of a football player, and the novel takes place in the present. Some of the chapters are only a page or two long, and rightfully belong to an adjoining chapter. In other cases, Downing leaps ahead by hours, days or weeks in the middle of a paragraph, in what should be a new chapter.While the writing is good, it isn't brilliant. At one point in the novel, out of nowhere, Downing goes on a jag of calling every habit or preference a disease. It lasts for a couple of chapters and then mysteriously stops. It's a trick stolen from much better writers, done awkwardly and beaten to death.

At the end of the book I didn't know who any of these people are, or where they were headed. I had no feelings either way for Scot. It would have helped if he had come to Ed and Sam in a believable way. It would have helped if he had been seeing a therapist, and we had been given that point of view to add to Ed's. It would have helped if Ed and Sam had been told exactly what school rules Scot was being sent home for breaking. And on and on.

Somewhere I'm sure someone has written the book Breakfast With Scot is trying to be: the story of a boy who knows at an early age he is gay, being raised by a gay couple who are functional members of middle class America. If anyone knows its name, please tell me.