Half Somali and Cuban, 17-year old Carsten Tynes, deals with the intricacies of race, Americanism, syncretism, migration, and sexuality under his dying father’s abusive hand in A Love Like Blood. Set in 1998, his family relocates to Beverly Hills, MI to expand their photography business. His father has lung disease and promises to give him the business if he marries his ex-girlfriend. Faced with an unwanted marriage and the slow death of his father, Carsten retreats behind his camera. His camera becomes the loose thread that slowly unravels his relationship with his father and reveals the unseen world of “men who move at night.” However, it is his infatuation with his neighbor, Brett that severs the symbolic umbilical cord between his father and him. When death pushes his father and Brett together, he makes a dangerous decision to protect them.
Genre: Young adult, LGBT (m/m)
Attempting to fully unload the entirety of this novel in one review would be a feat that would likely make this a small dissertation. Victor Yates has entered into the world of fiction with an ambitious novel that tackles the intersectionality of race, culture, sexuality, and religion.
A Love Like Blood does the difficult work of LGBT literature by disclosing the horrific side of coming out, including the immense backlash that comes from both a culture and a religious background that vehemently attacks queer people. Yates captures these issues with the story of Carsten Tynes, a half Somali, half Cuban teenage boy raised by his strict father in the late 90s. Carsten’s life is made difficult by the many identities he takes on, which include not only his hidden feelings for men, but also the cross cultures of his parents; while his father is a stern practitioner of Islam, his Cuban mother was a devote Catholic. The complexity of his identity become the chains that weigh down this young boy as he tries to navigate through his newfound life, and infatuation with his neighbor, Brett, in Beverly Hills, Michigan.
Yates’s style, though complex and sometimes dizzying, is gorgeous, mentally engaging, and very telling of his background in poetry. His language weaves a tale full of depth and visual description far more detailed than I’ve encountered in any of the books I’ve read this past year. The very first chapters of the book showcase the theme of religious transgression through heavy allusions toward Jesus, the covenant, and Christian imagery of blood and the cross. It’s as if the images of religion are looming over Carsten during his first encounters with Brett in a ghost-like fashion, warning him of the sinfulness of his desires.
If that were not enough of a warning, Carsten’s father serves as a physical reminder of what he is expected to be, and his father is constantly abusive to Carsten throughout the length of the novel. After receiving an especially harsh beating for attempting to hide photos of men in speedos, Father violently beats Carsten, afterwards apologizing by buying Carsten a new camera, a ritual peace offering between the father and son that has led to Carsten accruing a large collection of professional cameras over the years. Carsten’s father’s intolerance becomes a major focus in the novel, opening a discussion of what gets passed down through religion, culture, and family generations. For this single father, he has inherited a generational definition for what it means to be a man, which finds disgust in the effeminate and seeks to destroy it on sight.
Of course, I have some favorite moments, including Yates’ depiction of Detroit. As a native of Detroit, I’m really appreciative of the way Yates’ goes out of his way to describe the city in such a mesmerizing way. The following passage not only took me back to my childhood, remembering the final years of the 90s fading into bronze lights, but also showcases Yates’ amazing control of language to build a landscape in the mind’s eye.
“The world glows golden orange from the street lights in Midtown. As we walk in silence, the lighting illuminates Brett, changing his skin gold. His orange shorts disappear under the lights, creating a nude illusion. His legs are one thick muscle. I shave off a sliver of sweet mango, using his pocket knife, and hand it to him. I cut a thin piece for myself too. My hands are sticky with juice and saliva. I imagine the fruit is golden, and by eating it we glow like Detroit.”
I personally love the intricacy of the novel, including the ways it depicts same sex relationships, staying closeted, and the role that culture and definitions of masculinity can play in how people decide to come out. Though this is a heavy type of read, it’s certainly worth perusing if you’re looking for a story that doesn’t sugar coat the experience of being a gay man in an unaccepting world. The unapologetic rawness of this narrative remains A Love Like Blood’s shining factor. Victor Yates has proven himself a young author that we all should be looking out for.
About the Author
Victor Yates is a graduate of the Creative Writing program at Otis College, and is the recipient of an Ahmanson Foundation grant. He is the winner of the Elma Stuckey Writing Award in poetry. He has two poems published in the anthology, “For Colored Boys.” He has also taught writing workshops at the University of Southern California (for the Models of Pride Conference), Job Corps, Whaley Middle School, Gindling Hilltop Camp, and Bright Star Secondary Charter Academy. A Love Like Blood is his first novel.