Friday, August 17, 2018

TEMPER, sophomore effort from Nicky Drayden, builds success on talent topped by native brilliance


Harper Voyager
$15.99 trade paper, available now

Rating: 5* of five

The Publisher Says: Two brothers.
Seven vices.
One demonic possession.
Can this relationship survive?

Auben Mutze has more vices than he can deal with—six to be exact—each branded down his arm for all the world to see. They mark him as a lesser twin in society, as inferior, but there’s no way he’ll let that define him. Intelligent and outgoing, Auben’s spirited antics make him popular among the other students at his underprivileged high school. So what if he’s envious of his twin Kasim, whose single vice brand is a ticket to a better life, one that likely won’t involve Auben.

The twins’ strained relationship threatens to snap when Auben starts hearing voices that speak to his dangerous side—encouraging him to perform evil deeds that go beyond innocent mischief. Lechery, deceit, and vanity run rampant. And then there are the inexplicable blood cravings. . . .

On the southern tip of an African continent that could have been, demons get up to no good during the time of year when temperatures dip and temptations rise. Auben needs to rid himself of these maddening voices before they cause him to lose track of time. To lose his mind. And to lose his . . .



My Review
: Okay, let's get this out of the way up front. Yes, I knew the author in Austin; we met during NaNoWriMo, we were in a writer's group together, we hung out despite the fact that she's young enough to be my *much* younger sister (and that's quite far enough, thank you). I still have fun chatting with her. She is a delightful person.

And if she'd written a mediocre book, that's all I'd be saying.

But since she didn't write me a gushing acknowledgment in this book *chinwobble* I can actually review it without squicking myself out.

I'm an old white man with a white Gandalf-y beard. Young persons of color snicker at me as I stump along the boardwalk behind my house attired in what can charitably be described as old-guy clothes, floppy hat preventing my unmelaninated skin from turning lobsterish. It isn't visible that I have a radicalized leftist's heart and soul. That's what I wonder about, really, how to make it plain that I'd FAR rather see one of those young people in Congress, City Hall, the Chancellorship of the university system than yet another old guy who looks like me. It's time we move on to the dustheap of history. Go and get it, y'all, it's time to burn the damn thing down and get busy rebuilding it!

So, put together Nicky's age and state of melanination and her well-honed talent-sword and her absence of desire to tell more white patriarchal stories as a woman and person of color, and you'd think from looking at me that I'd be hollering at her to get off my literary lawn.

Nothing could be further from the truth. I *battened* on this meditation on the nature of good and evil, the inextricability of love and hate, the dangers of ideological purity, the dark heart and bright sheen of understanding. Nicky's done a lot of thinking over the years...go to Amazon and get some of her short stories if you want evidence...and it's been deep thought indeed. A theme that she demands her readers think about is fairness. Every word the woman writes is about fairness, almost always in its absence instead of presence. Her mind grapples with the notion of fairness being achievable. It seems to me that she comes down on the side of "not so much" since all of her stories have, well, ambiguous endings. No one ever gets off scot-free and no one ever suffers endlessly. But no one ever faces ennui, either.

So my take on the story here is that, in true Nicky fashion, she's going to take the reader where they need to go and tell them what the characters need the reader to know: It wasn't easy, this life I am leading, it's not a lot easier now than it started off being, but you know what? I'm still here, I'm stronger than I was before I broke this time, and I can't imagine I'd ever want to stop being the me that I've learned how to be. Piss on ya if you don't like it, or me, or the me I'm still learning to be.

Doesn't that sound ever so coming-of-age-ish? Like it's a teenager's dream read? Like hell it is. I attempted suicide for the first time in my life when I was 54. The world broke me. I spent months in a locked ward getting medicated for depression I'd never known I had. After all, when there's no memory of being happy, that's just the world, right? And I share that fault of vision with Auben, and with Kasim, the main characters in this story. They make different choices than I made but they choose between the same things: Accepting the way the world views you and sinking into its molten vats of hate and fear, or finding the updraft from the heat and following it to a less destructive place.

"My people, we have work to do."

So let's get our hands dirty and make the good better and the bad good again.

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