A Vigil for Joe Rose, by Michael Whatling
Publisher’s blurb: What is it like to be “out” in high school today? Is homophobia still rampant, or have things changed? How do the reactions of students, teachers, administrators, and families affect the out gay student?
A Vigil for Joe Rose is a collection of stories told with empathy and humour about the experience of being out in high school. As a unified collection, these eight short stories and a novella chart the journey of the main characters from first coming out to their growth into confident young gay men, and the challenges, triumphs, and losses along the way.
About the author: MICHAEL WHATLING grew up outside of Montreal, Canada. For a time he escaped and lived in London, Paris, and Tokyo. He holds a Ph.D. in education, and has taught at the elementary, secondary, and university levels. His writing includes short stories, novels, and screenplays. He now lives in the town where he grew up, tormented by intolerance, the need to write, and wild rabbits in his yard.
About Joe Rose: Montreal – Early Sunday morning a local man was stabbed to death on a city bus by a gang of youths. Joe Rose, 23, was attacked by 15 or more assailants who jeered at him and shouted, “Faggot.” The incident occurred at about 4:30 a.m. outside the Frontenac métro.
Witnesses to the attack say the youths beat him and stabbed him because his hair was dyed pink. The youths pulled off Rose’s hat and started punching him, then pulled out hunting and kitchen knives and scissors and stabbed him repeatedly before fleeing the bus. A female bus driver who tried to intervene was struck but not seriously injured.
“I’m convinced it was because he’s gay,” said one witness who asked not to be identified. “There were a lot of people they could have singled out. Why him? He had pink hair and looked gay. They chose him.”
A family spokesperson said Rose was returning home from a friend’s house on the last bus. In college, Rose was the president of the gay and lesbian student group.
A 19-year-old and a 15-year-old will be charged later today with second-degree murder. Two juveniles, 14 and 15, who cannot be named under youth protection laws, will be charged as accessories after the fact.
Review by Gerry Burnie
I first encountered Michael Whatling’s writing on Authonomy. It was with regard to the novella, The Last Coming Out Story, now published as part of a collection called, A Vigil for Joe Rose [iUniverse, 2008]. At the time I was impressed by his skill, but finding Authonomy too much of a popularity contest cum paper chase, I didn’t revisit it until recently. That’s when I learned of Michael’s published work.
To appreciate the nature of this work the reader should first take note of the introduction, wherein Whatling explains that the genesis is found in his doctoral research, and that, although it is a fictionalized account, it is based on interviews with actual gay students, i.e. a “non-fiction novel,” á-la-Truman Capote’s ”In Cold Blood.”
In this regard, Whatling has done a superb job of shining the spotlight on the thinking of sixteen to eighteen-year-olds, who happen to be gay, out, and attending high school. Sometimes the ‘coming out’ is intentional and planned, and sometimes it is not. “Losing control of the process,” it is called in “Elton John, Uncle Dave, and Me,” and that is a frightening process. “The Holy Ghost” explores teacher homophobia, and “A Lesson on Being Inseparable” tells the tale of a boy who is dedicated to teaching younger students about sexual orientation. Therefore, a wide range of perspectives are explored with the same sort of insight.
Best developed, in my opinion, is “The Last Coming Out Story,” which probably best fulfills the “non-fiction novel” function as well. It is a postmodern take on the ubiquitous coming out story. How does the president of the school’s “Rainbow Club” go from being the most popular student to the most hated? Though not for being gay.
So far. so good. The writing is very strong throughout, and one cannot be overly critical regarding the facts. After all, non-fiction is its own defense. However, when this is combined with the requisites of a novel (per se), the ordinary rules of entertainment apply. In this regard there was a sameness among the various short stories, and a lack of any real conflict. “Episodes in Fear: Mathews Story,” comes fairly close, but otherwise there is no real ‘high drama’ On the other hand, the factual account of Joe Rose’s murder is high drama enough. (See above)
A compelling read. Four-and-one-half stars.
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