Monday, January 17, 2011

The Major and the Miners, Part I: A Serpent in Paradise by Barry Lowe

The first part of Barry Lowe’s The Major and the Miners is a warm and (almost) innocent story set in the coal mines of post-WWI Australia. Innocent, but not naïve. The main characters Major Damien Bouton (Button) and Joshua Carter have a mutual attraction and neither is bashful about expressing his feelings, even in an environment hostile to homosexuals.

Major Button is the resident physician at the remote village of Seaspray Bay, where the coal miners work. Joshua is a young miner, who is injured in an accident while working below. They first meet when the good doctor patches him up so he can make the trip to a hospital better equipped to handle his injuries. Upon Josh’s return to Seaspray Bay, Mrs. Carter treats the bachelor doctor for a home-cooked meal as a thank you for saving her son.

It isn’t long before Button and Josh are in each other’s arms and various body cavities, much to the chagrin of Danny, Josh’s best mate. Danny is engaged to Joshua’s sister but it’s evident he has the hots for Josh instead.

As the relationship between Button and Josh heats up, so does Danny’s hostility toward his perceived rival. Major Button decides that it is time for them to quit the backwater village and head to the big city where they’re more likely to find a better ratio of accepting people to homophobes. As the first part closes, Danny has gathered some like-minded villagers to run Button out of town, leaving Joshua behind. The doctor doesn’t believe Danny’s assertions that Josh has changed his mind and won’t leave but he has little choice. He makes his escape to Sydney sans Joshua.

Here ends the first part but Lowe peppers his work with flashbacks and flashforwards, so readers are aware that Joshua joins Button at some point in the future, which robs the story of much-needed suspense. The two flashbacks have an ambiguous effect. The first is simply confusing and out of place. However the second gives us a quick glimpse into Major Damien’s Button’s closeted past.

The biggest questions Lowe leaves us are when did Joshua rejoin the major, and why has Danny shown up at their new abode three years later?

I'll have to wait until Part II.

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