November 1st, 2021

BOOK REVIEW — UNCOMMON SONS by Bruce W. Bishop

As I've commented in the past, there is a definite contingent among the LGBTQIA readership that has clamored for books that don't centralize a character's awareness of being gay or lesbian or trans or whatever, but instead just happen to feature us within a storyline like any other ordinary character.

I'm not really among them — I like the narratives where people come to grips with their identities as marginalized, different people.

I'm perhaps also not the ideal reader for a mystery story. It's not that I've never read and enjoyed one, but I'm not the mystery-story afficionado that my parents both are. They dive into mystery stories hoping to recognize the clues. They watch how the unsolved mystery is presented and they match wits with the author, trying to discern from the tidbits of information left behind for the reader what the truth of the matter is, whodunnit, and why they dunnit, and how they dunnit, before the author does the reveal at the end.

And I don't. I read mystery stories, when I read them at all, to be entertained. Not to try to outwit the author. I'm all like "Tell me an entertaining narrative. Ooh, that happened, what's next?" I have read mystery stories where the author deliberately has set a lot of misleading cues and clues, only to have somebody behave in an uncharacteristic way for some far-fetched reason that is revealed at the end, and instead of being impressed with how the author prevented me from preguessing the culprit and reason and mechanism, I'm generally left resenting the lack of consistent characterization and how unlikely it is that that's how it would turn out to be.

Uncommon Sons spans the division of genre, being neither a coming-of-age / coming-out story nor a mainstream detective tale that just happens to feature some gay folks in it, by setting the events in the 1930s when any person with same-sex sexual orientation would be battling against the same identity issues that a kid in middle school would be dealing with in the modern era, and Bruce Bishop gives us characters who wrestle with this accordingly.

In Uncommon Sons, Bishop hands us two primary non-cishet characters, one, Marc, who is in the upper echelons of hotel management and the other, Ian, his employee, to whom he is attracted, and who takes the more forward and assertive role in pursuing their mutual interest. Interwoven throughout their interactions are the dynamics of coming to terms with this as an identity. We predominantly see Marc contemplating this as who he is, rather than a failure to tamp down inappropriate interests, but with Ian also we see a group self-hatred and a need to distance himself identity-wise from his sexuality, not just limited to his existing marriage and family but an overarching need to condemn what he is ready to label as "fairy", some kind of inferior marginal identity to which he holds himself superior and thinks Marc should also.

There is a languid unhurried buildup to the critical events that evoke police scrutiny and the definition of a crime in need of solving, and within that space Bishop gives us real three-dimensional characters, and even aside from having LGBTQIA folks embedded amongst the cast, this keeps it from being formulaic genre mystery tale, and because of this additional headroom, my itch for seeing people in the process of sorting out their identity is largey scratched.

I won't give you spoilers, in case you're of the type who do like to solve the enigram before the reveal, but I will say that I did not find the characters as developed to be inconsistent with what we eventually find out did transpire.

Bishop takes his time to set up the critical events in the tale, some of which will slide beneath your perceptual radar in the earlier character-establishment portions. At the same time, Bishop is knitting together characters who were featured in earlier novels or will appear in later ones. You should get to know these people. You should interact with them perhaps to understand their life stories in case you end up reading other connected tales, or perhaps because understanding them is conducive to following the plot. Does it matter which? Bishop sketches three-dimensional participants and leaves us wanting to know them all in more detail.


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Do you counsel young people trying to sort out their gender identity? You should read my book! It's going to add a new entry to your map of possibilities when you interact with your clients!

My book, GenderQueer: A Story From a Different Closet, has been published by Sunstone Press. It is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble in paperback and ebook, and as ebook only from Apple, Kobo, and directly from Sunstone Press themselves.


My second book, That Guy in Our Women's Studies Class, is also being published by Sunstone Press. It's a sequel to GenderQueer. It's expected to be released in late 2021. Stay tuned for further details.



Links to published reviews and comments are listed on my Home Page

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