Common Sons – Ronald L. Donaghe
Four 1/2 stars
Story outline: Set in a small town in the middle of nowhere in the mid-1960s, Common Sons not only anticipates the coming gay revolution, but delineates its fields of battle in churches, schools and society, pitting fathers against sons, straight teens against gay teens, and self-hatred against self-respect.
From the opening scene (where a reckless bout of drinking at a dance ends in a very public kiss between two teenage boys), the citizens of the small town of Common, New Mexico, become aware of the homosexuality in their midst.
The two boys are unable to deal with their struggle in private as the story of their public kiss spreads through the small town. Some seek to destroy the relationship between the two boys, while others seek to destroy the two boys themselves. Common Sons is a moving tale of self-discovery, love and finding the courage to come out and come to grips with truth in the face of hatred and adversity.
Review by Gerry Burnie
An inspirational read, and an absolutely must read for anyone coming out—young or old.
I must say with regret that I have only read one of author Ronald L. Donaghe’s nine novels—thus far. Having said that, Common Sons (iUiverse 2000) is a marvellous place to start.
It is a tale of two teenage boys, Joel and Tom, growing up in the dusty town of Common, New Mexico. They do the usual things like cruising the main street in Joel’s pickup, and eating hamburgers at the A & W, but there is fundamental difference between them. Joel is a farmer’s son with a pragmatic way of looking at things, and Tom is a Baptist minister’s son with only a biblical view of reality. Albeit, they are also in love with one another, although neither of them realizes this at first.
Ron Donaghe has also done a remarkable, and equally superb job of emphasizing the oppressive atmosphere in which their love is destined to bloom, i.e., the oppressive heat, the howling sand storms, and the relentless boredom of Common itself. Add to this a cast of narrow-minded bigots, sneering bimbos, and Tom’s fire-and-brimstone breathing father, and the stage is set for an adventure in human endurance.
The catalyst is an ill-advised but quite innocent kiss at a 1960s dance—read a “pre-coital warm up with beer and brawls” before the ‘main event.’ Joel and Tom also get around to the main event in the pick up truck, the first event for both of them, and in the cold light of dawn they each reflect on it from their different perspectives.
That’s as far as I will go with the plot—for fear of ruining it for others. Instead, I will deal with the many admirable points that the author has incorporated into this novel.
Point one: The author has approached the topic of ‘coming out’ with sensitivity, insight, and a remarkable degree of reality. Those of us who came out in the 1960s, especially in insular community like Common—or Pefferlaw, Ontario, Canada, for that matter, can attest to how well he has captured the isolation that Joel and Tom might have experienced when they realize that they were ‘different.’ We can also attest to the extent, and delight that others went to pointing this out to us.
Point two: Ron Danaghe has also given us insight into the dark ages of psychology, when homosexuality was considered a mental illness, or, at best, a deviation. The greater part of society would now regard this as “quackery,” but it did exist along side religious dogma.
Point three: Referring to the last point, Donaghe has approached the topic of religious dogma—especially “literalist” religious dogma, with remarkable objectivity. Donaghe’s is an intellectual approach—as is the Reverent Suskine’s Unitarian view of it in the novel, so this is not the indictment it might have been.
[As a historian, I can also add that this homophobic view of sexuality has only existed for about six centuries. The Catholic Church was the first to declare it a sin, and then King of England adopted it into law to strengthen his political ties with the Holy Roman Empire. Ergo, it has more to do with politics than morality].
Having said all that, Common Sons is an inspirational read, and an absolutely must read for anyone coming out—young or old.