King of Angels
by Perry Brass
reviewed by Mick Mykola Dementiuk
A Saintly Who Done It
A Jewish boy, Benjamin ‘Benjy” Rothberg is growing up in Savannah, Georgia with his father Robby/Leon, and his non-Jewish Episcopalian mother Caroline, who sits around drinking too many gin and grapefruit Salty Dogs with her girlfriends. Robby/Leon is a salesman and works mostly out of town, while Caroline stays taking care of the house with a black maid on the side, such as women used to do in those years. Every time Caroline drives over to pick Benjy up from school the car radio is always blasting some Beatles song on the car radio as she happily sings along. She loves the music of the era, makes her feel young and alive, Benjy is always embarrassed. The time is the early 1960s and JFK is president just before he was assassinated. In the novel Benjy is starting to learn about life and eventually his homosexuality. What can a thirteen growing boy do but get a little ass, that is, suck a little cock and have his own sucked off, too?
Learn to be a man, as his father Robby stresses, so Benjy is sent to a Catholic school where he befriends Tim, an Irish lad who comes from a large boisterous family and Arthur, a good looking Puerto Rican boy from a very poor family with a drunken father who takes it out on his son, Arthur. There are many other boisterous dangerous boys in the school but it seems that Benjy is pulled to these two. He follows Arthur sneakily home one evening and gets lost, wandering into a bar (at the time ‘gay’ bars were still unheard of) with shady characters sitting around and drinking cheap beer. One drinker smiles lasciviously at Benjy but does take the time to show him where Arthur is staying; a poor worthless Puerto Rican dump and Benjy is very embarrassed but goes go in after his friend. In surprise Arthur is stunned to see his classmate but the Puerto Rican boy’s father comes in and asks crude questions of the visitor.
Still, Benjy has to undergo a bar mitzvah according to Jewish tradition and he asks Father Alexis, one of his teachers to guide him since the priest had taken courses in Judaism, and in surprise Father Alexis agrees to teach him. When suddenly on the last day at the retreat he went to the beautiful Puerto Rican boy Arthur is missing. The police find his body drowned in the lake when suddenly Benjy also learns that his father is being accused by his employer of embezzlement. Faced with two disasters at one time, Benjy is devastated, plus a few other boys are suspected by the police in having a hand in Arthur’s demise. It all comes boiling down to a fitting satisfying conclusion. A beautiful Southern drama and one of little boys intermixed with the depravity of the time, the bustling confusing era of change with growing older parents and superiors. One night Benjy returns to Father Alexis for more bar mitzvah training but he smells alcohol on Father Alexis’ breath, he doesn’t feel odd when the priest kisses the top of his head yet he still is forced to leave, a bit confused. Why did the priest kiss him Benjy wants to know, was that part of some ritual but he does suspect the priest was after something more and it wasn’t Benjy’s friendship.
The cops close the case of dead boy Arthur since there is nothing there but Benjy is determined to find out for himself about what really happened by putting a stake-out at a little used library bathroom that he’s certain the slayer will be visiting again. Meanwhile, he makes it with Nathan, an older boy at the age of seventeen who takes him to a ‘gay’ club but who tells him to stick with the Catholic boys instead of perverts like him. Benjy is amazed that such ‘gay clubs’ exist in the 1960s, still his hard throbbing penis makes him feel otherwise.
Indeed this wonderful satisfying novel is nicely written and easy going, even with the inner confusion and accusation which will comes later. At first I thought it would be heavy duty and philosophical, what with the sub-title, A Novel About the Genesis of Identity and Belief, but no, it was written about our hero Benjy, a young man, in a style which is reminiscent of Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March or Henry Roth’s Call It Sleep, two books about young men growing up and looking out at an evil, benign world glaring and sneering back at them. The other great thing about the book is that the boys are masturbating and ejaculating at the proper age of thirteen, fourteen and fifteen unlike the fictional characters in other books by some publishers who will only bring out a book or e-book when the main character is portrayed in their pages as sexually confident at the rightful adult age of eighteen or some such. What rot and rubbish! Thirteen is the perfect age of self discovery and anything older is an evident publisher’s fear and bullshit. ‘I orgasmed at the age of eighteen’ is a lie. I know of some men who have experienced ejaculation at the age of eight, nine, ten, and who’s to say at what age it can’t be for real.
More honest books like this by authors such as the bold Perry Brass and we can send these timid scared publishers where they belong, into the rubbish heap. Great job Perry Brass, you and your publisher Bethue Press deserve high praise for your courage and daring in bringing out this very real-life novel, King of Angels. You are royalty itself, bravo!
Mick (Mykola) Dementiuk is a two-time winner of the Lambda Award, and his collection, Times Square Queer, was a finalist for the 2012 Bisexual Book Award. Visit him at http://dementiuk.weebly.com or http://www.MykolaDementiuk.com