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[349] A Density of Souls – Christopher Rice

” You told me about what you called the light in the darkness. About how life was neither good nor bad, but a combination of both and occasionally good things pop up in the middle of tragedy, but they still don’t make tragedy go away. ” [266]

A Density of Souls is an intricate, convoluted Southern gothic tale that follows four friends from early teenage years to young adulthood. Meredith, Brandon, Greg, and Stephen, once inseparable, are torn apart by envy, secret passion, urge to fit in, and rage. As they enter adolescence, as if growing up dictates the shredding of their innocent nutshell, their loyalties and camaraderie have dramatically shifted. The tangle of a plot, at times seemingly ambitious, hinges on a sexual incident that takes place before the foursome begins high school at an exclusive preparatory. Stephen is ostracized by his former friends, Greg and Brandon, now boisterously homophobic high school jocks. Soon he becomes the sensitive homosexual boy—the easy target of cruelty and derision from the school’s popular crowd.

She leaned her head to one side of the pillow to meet her son’s eyes. ‘Never give in to them,’ she whispered. ‘No matter what they do or how important you feel it is to get their acceptance. Never kill part of yourself for them. [77]

Unbeknownst to the bullies, who are frantically covering a painful childhood secret in their persecution of Stephen, Meredith, a closeted alcoholic, is privy to the secret and fills her diary with the frightful truths. Feeling more than fondness for Stephen, she is set protect him—not just physically but who he is.

The panic she had felt only seconds earlier turned from an icy knot inside her chest to a hot rush like the onset of nausea. Her first thought was that one of them had been hurt. But some instinct won’t allow her to believe this, so she remained unable to call out to them . . . Greg and Stephen locked eyes with an intensity that told Meredith they were part of a world she had been denied access to. It had to be a world known only to boys. [5]

Before the novel reveals this secret during the overwrought dénouement set during a devastating hurricane, a wave of incidents takes place and shatters lives of several families. A child is killed by a garbage truck. One of the bullies dies; the other has an emotional breakdown. A parent is sent to mental hospital. A gay bar is bombed by a terrorist hate group called Army of God. During the time of loss, Stephen and Jordan’s relationship blossoms in the weeks following the unexpected meeting, as Jordan returns to New Orleans to seek out his brother, the emotionally wrecked Brandon who has persecuted his new love.

For passion, like crime, does not sit well with the sure order and even course of everyday life. It welcomes every loosening of the social fabric, every confusion and affliction visited upon the world, for passion sees in such disorder a vague hope of finding advantage for itself. [198]

The novel explores the dynamic within a tightly knit group of young people driven by obscure desires, and haunted by sexual uncertainty and fears. Rice is sensitive and perspicacious to the emotional undercurrents that compel teenagers to both mask and wallow in their intense feeling. A Density of Souls is thoughtfully woven with many twists and turns until the end—with one last unexpected discovery that revolves paternity issue. It’s the myopic vision to human heart, how it’s suppressed, persecuted, and and stigmatized, during the formative years of human beings that sets this novel apart from other coming-of-age stories.

320 pp. Trade paperback. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]

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4 Responses

  1. I loved this book when I first read it but I have not picked it up in a few years. Thank you for your review and the reminder that I should revisit this one sometime soon.

  2. Sounds like a good read. I’ve been curious about what kind of author Christopher Rice is. I always wonder about the children of famous authors and whether they get published because of who they know. But this sounds like one I should put on my list to read.

  3. I remember borrowing this book from our school library. It was a pretty awesome read.

  4. Loved this book! Read it when it first came out and got to see Christopher at a signing for it. For me, his other 3 books show growth as a writer but they just weren’t as good. I’d definitely reread Density, but wouldn’t revisit any of his other work.

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