Gerry B's Book Reviews

Counterpoint: Dylan’s Story, by Ruth Sims

A truly great story that reads like silk rippling across naked skin

Publisher’s blurb: COUNTERPOINT: DYLAN’S STORY is the story of Dylan Rutledge’s life, from the age of eighteen until his early thirties, and of the two men whose lives were intertwined with his at different times and in different ways.

At eighteen Dylan Rutledge has one obsession: music. He believes his destiny is to be the greatest composer of the rapidly approaching twentieth century. Only Laurence Northcliff, a young history master at The Venerable Bede School for Young Gentlemen, believes in Dylan’s talent and encourages his dream, not realizing Dylan is in love with him.

But Dylan’s passion and belief in his future come at a high price. They will alienate him from his family and lead him on a rocky path fraught with disappointment, rejection, and devastating loss that kills his dream. A forbidden love could bring the dream back to life and rescue Dylan from despair and bitterness, but does he have the courage to reach out and take it? Will he deny the music that rules his soul?

 

Ruth Sims has lived her entire life in conservative, Republican, tiny-town Midwest USA surrounded by corn, wheat, and soybean fields. It’s a strange place indeed for a Liberal Democrat to have sprouted. Like Emily Dickenson she’s never seen a moor and never seen the sea but she’s seen plenty of silos, Amish buggies, whitetails, and amber waves of grain. She’ll battle anybody who says the flat, fertile land of the Midwest doesn’t have its own kind of beauty.

Though many years past schooldays, her education is continuous and far-ranging, with interests ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous, from Shakespeare to groan-inducing puns and limericks. Her library has many shelves of history, biography, drama, and reference books. Her special love of drama is apparent in The Phoenix, and her passion for Classical and Romantic music comes to life in Counterpoint: Dylan’s Story.

Words, imagination, books, music, and writing have always been the means by which she could slip into more exciting lives than her own. When the chance finally came for her to write full-time, she was able to focus on the stories that have been in her head for years. Her many characters are thankful to escape; it was getting crowded in there.

 

Review by Gerry Burnie

 In March of this year I had the pleasure of reviewing The Phoenix by Ruth Sims, and described it as, “A masterful piece of writing, credible and enjoyable from start to finish.” At that time I thought that I had exhausted all the superlatives possible on a novel, but with Counterpoint: Dylan’s Story [Dream Spinner Press, July 2010] she had surpassed even these. Indeed, Counterpoint has been described as “A symphony of words.”

It begins with a tasteful cover design by Alex Beecroft that captures the theme of the novel with just the right flare. Then the story opens like an insightful overture containing a glimpse of what is to come, but most of all it artfully introduces Dylan’s impetuous personality better than any descriptive narrative could do. Here we find Dylan playing one of his own composition illicitly on the main organ of the Bede College (for young gentlemen) chapel; an instrument that is almost the ‘proprietary’ province of the old-school, hide-bound choir master—ushering in one of nemesis in Dylan’s life; the first of many.

Chapter one also introduces us to Laurence Northcliff, a more liberal-minded teaching master—although, how ‘liberal’ remains to be seen in a later chapter.

In fact, the character development in this story is one of the very strong points of Ruth Sims’ writing; for they are all true to the period in their attitudes and way of thinking, credible for who and what they are, and consistent throughout. For example, Dylan retains his artless idealism throughout; Northcliff his maturity and understanding; Dylan’s father his ultra-conservative, middleclass standards; etc. I also thought it very true-to-life that his father would blame Northcliff for Dylan’s ‘downfall,’ referring to his homosexuality, because it couldn’t have come from his genes—plus ca change.

The setting, both in England and in Paris, deserve a special mention as well; for I find it quite remarkable that a gal who “has lived her entire life in conservative, Republican, tiny-town Midwest USA,” can create 19th-century, European settings that are so credible in detail and ambiance that they rival travel brochures.

Indeed ‘ambiance’ is another aspect of her writing that is worthy of praise. It creates that period “feeling” that so many of her readers have commented on, including myself regarding The Phoenix:

“Not to be overlooked is the amount of research required to reproduce Victorian England to a credible degree is quite considerable—especially for a gal who, according to her biography, has never seen a moor! Well, the test of the ‘credibility factor’ is that I as a reader certainly believed it.”

Counterpoint: Dylan’s Story reads like silk rippling across naked skin, and the overall experience of it—the heights and depths of love, the highs and lows of life, the counterpoints of success and failure, and the triumph of the human spirit has left me with the afterglow of having read a great story!

See a preview of Coming of Age on the Trail

July 18, 2010 - Posted by | Fiction, Gay fiction, Gay historical fiction, Gay Literature

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