Wednesday 19 September 2018

Dodging and Burning by John Copenhaver

A #DDRevs Diamond Read

London and Virginia

John Copenhaver’s debut novel gives readers a gorgeous, critical look at the LGBTQ community in post-WWII society, revolving around a murder. In Royal Oak, VA, three friends - Jay Greenwood, Bunny Prescott, and Ceola Bliss - spend the summer of 1945 trying to solve the apparent murder of a young woman whom Jay had photographed. As they investigate, it becomes clear that there are multiple layers of deceit involving Jay, the woman in the photo, and Ceola’s brother, who had gone missing in action in the Pacific theater two years earlier. As events unfold, Jay’s wartime traumas surface, causing distress and confusion to all around him, including Ceola. She also struggles to understand and incorporate what she learns about the beloved brother she thought she knew, fighting against social and parental pressure and judging those against what she feels is right. Finally, Bunny sets into motion a chain of reactions that will have decades-long ramifications for them all.

Dodging and Burning has some truly lovely writing, filled with deep imagery and complex, living characters. The society is richly depicted, from the salt of the earth working poor to the upper middle class people of the town to the gay and lesbian people in the DC underground. The novel mirrors social mores of the time regarding the way the LGBTQ community was portrayed, so that made for some really intense and upsetting scenes in some places. People were, and still are, awful to each other. There is a lot of excellent, much-needed social commentary woven throughout. One character speaks for the LGBTQ community when he says, “If you’re afraid for long enough, you grow numb to it” (289). That really struck me on a number of levels, because I can’t imagine living my whole life being afraid - literally mortally afraid - every moment of the day, and yet that is how it as for many people. Another character later on summed up much of mainstream society when he said, “You’ve been blind from the beginning. When you look at Cee or me or anyone, all you see is what you want” (312). So true, for so many people even today. The final few pages were an absolute gutpunch, one which was vital. This is a book that must be read and discussed with as many people as possible.

Very highly recommended.

© Kristen McQuinn

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