~by Aaron Krach
2004 Lambda Literary Award Nominee
Half-life by Aaron Krach is the second book that I've received through LibraryThing's Member Giveaways program, a spin-off of the Early Reviewers program. It's an interesting coincidence that both of the books I won were about gay men and that neither of them were really coming-out stories. But the two have few similarities beyond that--King of Cats follows an older, well-established English guitarist and those surrounding him while Half-life follows Adam, a southern Californian teenager just starting out, and his friends and family. One thing I hadn't realized when I submitted my request for Half-life was that it was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award in 2004 for best debut novel. So, when I found that out, and when I found out that I had won the drawing for the book, I was very excited to read it.
Adam Westman is a senior at Angelito High School in Los Angeles with nothing much but finals and graduation to look forward to. He does still need to find a job for the summer to earn a bit of extra cash before heading to Standford to study English literature. But the sudden death of his father Greg changes everything and nothing. He still has his close friends Dart and Fran to hang out at the "Sev" with, and he never really felt that his father was there for him or his sister Sandra anyways. Now his self-absorbed mother Vivian has to start paying more attention and his stepfather Marc is doing his best to be there for them all. But along with death comes a chance at love--cop Jeff Manfield was one of the officers present at the scene of Greg's death. Although twenty years older than Adam, the two men have a romantic attraction for one another even considering the circumstances of their meeting.
Half-life is somewhat a slow, quiet book, which isn't to say that there aren't personal crises or conflicts because there certainly are--Krach simply isn't in your face about it. The story doesn't have a intense plot, it is about everyday people going about their everyday lives; feelings are going to get hurt and misunderstanding are bound to occur. So while the book isn't very flashy or over-dramatic, it still has quite a bit of feeling to it. The entire story takes place in 1999 between June 6 and June 21--two weeks that are magnified and closely examined day by day. I particularly enjoyed this technique since it showed just how important the little, and big, things in life really are.
Half-life provides a glimpse into the lives of its many primary and secondary characters. I was expecting the story to be mostly about Adam, but while he serves as a focal point the book is really about everyone, their relationships with one another, and the occasional missed connection. It is also a book about transitions and how people deal with them--or don't. Adam and his classmates are graduating, getting read to face "real life." His family circumstances change as they all adjust to the loss of his father. And falling in love will make other demands. Krach's storytelling is a prominent feature of the book; I was always very aware of the narrator and the fact that I was being told a story. The style is flippant and sassy with asides directed towards the reader every now and then. While Krach's style might be distracting for some, I found myself quite taken with it and enjoyed the book immensely.