BOOK REVIEW: Brooklyn Gay Novel “Sons” by Alphonso Morgan
I don’t really know where to begin with my thoughts on this debut novel, “Sons” by Alphonso Morgan. It is a muddled, slow-moving, coming of age story that simultaneously makes you aroused, nauseated and bored.
Set in Brooklyn in the 1990’s, the novel follows the meeting and growing relationship between young black gay Americans, Aaron and Sha, both struggling with their sexuality. Predictably, one is the submissive type and the other is the aggressive. One is inexperienced and the other has been around the block. One is the innocent while the other is a drug dealing thug.
It’s not every day that you see Gay fiction that not only features masculine non-stereotypical characters of color but also incorporates Hip Hop culture into the mix. So reading the first 50 or so pages of “Sons” was extremely refreshing in many ways. Compared to many other Gay black writers I’ve read, Morgan seems to want us to take him seriously as an author choosing not to resort to pornography in his prose. At the same time, however, some of his scenes still come off very sensual and erotic without the need for explicit description.
This is where things got really weird and uncomfortable for me. The characters Sha and Aaron are 21 and 16 years old, respectively. If you’re keeping up, that means there’s some underage action going on here. Admittedly, specific sexual acts like intercourse are only implied and rarely mentioned in the book but the thought of it hovers in the mind throughout.
The flaws with “Sons” were either the result of bad writing or bad editing. At only 228 pages the book was an exhaustive chore to finish. Morgan’s overreaching and often confusing prose caused me to re-read many sections or just skip them entirely. Also, to say that there was not much of a story in “Sons” is being nice. Nothing really “happens” until after the 150 page mark. To be honest, there are about 100 pages that could have easily have been deleted from the original manuscript entirely without confusing the reader at all.
The characters are all either one-dimensional or they behave in ways that seemingly lack any kind of motivation. For example, the character Sha is a gay sociopath but it’s never explained exactly how or why he became one in the first place. The character Aaron is so conflicted about his sexuality that he seriously considers suicide (throughout 30 pages of drawn-out prose), but that is never explained either given that he’s neither interested in women, religious or particularly close to his family at all.
It was frustrating to read because the potential fruits of good complex characters were all there to ripen. I wanted to get to know these people but Morgan chose to instead fill his pages with long complicated descriptions about how beautiful and tough New York City Burroughs can be. What could have been a character rich tale inspired by The Wire seen through a gay lens just comes off dull and small in scope.
The last 60 pages flow much more quickly but ironically, they feel almost too rushed. In that span, Morgan gives us at least FIVE MAJOR unbelievably coincidental instances that make it seem as if New York City is only filled with about 10 places and people.
Having said all that, I’d still recommend this book which is available on Amazon. The reason why some of the uncomfortable intimate underage scenes work is that Morgan writes them in a way where you almost put yourself in the shoes of the characters. If you also experienced gay sex with older men at a young age, you may be able to relate to the characters more than I did. I should also add that Morgan did force me to think back to my own youth and wonder how much different my life would have been had I made different decisions or lived in a different surrounding as a young black gay male. It’s one thing to tell a story but it’s something else entirely to make the reader look and examine themselves internally in the process.
– Nick D
Am I the only black gay man who thinks this is, like, one of the best books ever… I think the people that hate on this book aren’t used to reading on this level. OK I admit I’m and English major ie nerd but I just don’t understand how people find this book confusing or slow. I mean hasn’t anyone ever read James Baldwin or William Faulkner? If you haven’t theres no way for you to even understand what the author was going for. The story is totally allegorical–there’s this whole Biblical analogy going on where Sha is crucified and what not. And I don’t get what you mean about the author not making a judgement call on the “moral issues” in the book. No good author would….A good writer pushes your buttons and lets the reader decide. The fact that it made you have all these revelations and really made you think and question things means the author was doing something right. And who and the hell thinks its a moral issue for a 16 year old and a 20 year old to be dating? Total non-issue. It’s so funny because if you google this book and read the reviews from like English professor types they basically call Alphonso Morgan the next Baldwin. Its always the black gay men that hate it. I think the problem with this author is that he’s too good for us. He’s casting his pearls before swine.
I have found myself to be the only person in my circle who enjoyed this novel. I thought it was brilliant. Yes, I was also an English major. 🙂 I’m eagerly awaiting Alphonso’s next projects.
By the time I was 16 years old, I had had sex with an adult male. I say what is the difference with a 14 year old and 17 year old having sex and a 16 year old and a 20 year old having sex? I don’t think the line is as clearly demarcated as we pretend that it is, or would like it to be. I think 16 year olds should be allowed to consent to sex as I did without one thought about it. If I am not mistaken, some states allow consensual sex @ 16 years old. And others allow it at 17 years old. Nobody forced or coerced me into having sex. I wanted it. Plain and simple – I was mature.
I’m going to flat out honest… The writing is no where near James Baldwin or William Faulkner…
I tell by these few pages that the writing does a lot of overreaching in its imagery… “obscure accomplice eyes” is a terrible way to say whatever was trying to be said. Shit like this simply does not work sonically nor semantically… As a creative writing grad student and editor of a literary arts journal, I can assure anyone that this piece of fiction is still in some very raw stages that go largely overlooked because of its subject matter. Don’t be fooled… this book does way more telling than showing — which is a cardinal sin in fiction writing. The reader receives most impressions by the force of the author’s hand.
TO be even more honest… It’s rather unlikely that you would find gay fiction on par with some of the highest levels of literature because there is a certain lack of narrative technique. More than likely because the texts that predicate and inspire them are shits like romance novels or other bad gay lit… *shrug*
AS far as the age issue is concerned, dealing with the issue of under/younger age sexual activity, it’s something that should be talked about. A lot of people have sexual experiences at various young ages. My first blowie came at the age of 9, was talking to a 23 yr old at 17 and a 40 yr old at 25… so… it happens
I’m so glad you reviewed this book.
I’ve been wanting to buy and read this book for years along with Breathe by Blair R. Poole.
Although your review on the book will be in the back of my head I’ll try to go in with an open mind and see how I experience the book.
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This book was a total let down for me when I read it about 2 years ago.