JCharlesIn this issue, IGW editor and writer, John Charles, reviews E. Layne Kelly's Carcass of the Caterpillar and Allen Howe's The Odd Boy and His Precious Piano.

Writers / Publishers: If you would like to have John review your book, you can contact him directly about where to send review copies. As one of the editors of IGW, he is authorized to accept or decline material.
LayneIntroducing writer
E. Layne Kelly.

Layne lives in Monmouth County N.J. and is currently working on her eighth novel. She has one completed screenplay and one movie short. Her stories are a personal perspective of today's timely and controversial issues. Visit her website to learn more.

OddBoyThe Odd Boy and his Precious Piano
By Allen Howe Published by iUniverse
ISBN 0-595-16664-4

    Written in the first person, The Odd Boy and his Precious Piano begins when Alan is three years old, in a convincingly young voice.  In fact, not only is the protagonist’s voice realistic at three years old, but it matures accordingly, as he does, to the book’s conclusion at the age of twelve.  Using narration and dialogue, Alan tells his story. 

Perceived as odd by his classmates from an early age, he nonetheless has friends, albeit they too are always on the fringes.  His parents, who we learn in an aside, are older than the parents of Alan’s contemporaries, overprotect him.  Dirt and disobedience are to be avoided, and privacy is denied him, even as he matures and enters adolescence.  His parents, who come across as somewhat neurotic in their strict control of their son, instill their own fears in Alan.  With a “marriage list” of girls he considers suitable and desirable, he seeks girls out as playmates over boys, and engages in kissing, multiple proposals and, in one case, a mock marriage. 
At the age of eleven, Alan meets Jack, a new student at his school.  Jack is everything Alan isn’t, athletic, popular, and a magnet to both his classmates and his teachers.  To Alan’s surprise, Jack befriends him, and we soon are witness to their budding discovery of one another.  With a light hand, the author relates in Alan’s voice the tentative touching, kissing, and hand holding, and Alan’s mostly visceral understanding that he’s attracted to boys, not girls.
Interwoven throughout the narrative is Alan’s gift for music as an accomplished pianist, evident from an early age.  Although this is a source of pride for both him and his parents, it’s yet another oddity that sets Alan apart.
The Odd Boy… is a character driven, chronological narrative, and as such, relates the ordinary experiences as well as the profound, as Alan grows up.  The book’s climax comes with Alan’s first piano competition, and parallels in time his relationship with Jack.
This book’s strength lies in the unwavering way in which the author has captured a child’s voice, a child’s understanding and a child’s perspective of the world as he experiences it.  The Odd Boy and his Precious Piano is highly recommended for its realism and light hand as it chronicles a young boy’s coming of age.

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CarcassCarcass of the Caterpillar
by E. Layne Kelly  Published by indieArtz
ISBN: 0-9753252-1-3

    Set in the countryside of North Carolina, Carcass of the Caterpillar opens with Chad climbing the town’s water tower.  We learn that this typifies Chad McLain, a loose cannon who defies the rules, the authorities and does the things that appeal to him, earning the nickname “Cra-zee McLain.”  The quintessential “all boy” small town eighteen- year-old, athletic, masculine, and well liked, we soon see that Chad’s life isn’t simple.  Chad, and to a much lesser degree his younger brother “Sam,” are physically abused by their father.  As the older of the two, Chad bears the brunt of the beatings.  We’re also introduced to a neighboring farmer, Jake, who Chad works for from time to time.
Chad hasn’t given much thought to either his attraction to boys, or his disinterest in girls, although he’s learned to ‘cover’ his natural tendencies.  He picks a plain girl to date, who he knows will be satisfied with an occasional night out and a kiss on the cheek.  Coming off another beating, Chad brings his truck to the town’s service station and meets Tim, a University of Miami dropout now working as a mechanic.  Neither boy is unknown to the other, having attended the same high school although several years apart.  Nevertheless, their first meeting is an unexpected introduction for Chad, to a relationship with another man.  Surprising, electric, and erotic without being explicit, the reader is immediately drawn into what’s about to unfold.
As the relationship develops, Chad’s home life continues to unravel.  He leaves home and moves in with Tim, removing himself from his father’s abuse, but in the process shifting his father’s attention onto Sam. 
The author develops several subplots, which are all intertwined.  The chemistry and evolving relationship between Chad and Tim is the focal point of the story, and Kelly’s treatment is realistic and riveting.  The sex scenes, while only mildly graphic are nonetheless very well done, and won’t disappoint those whose tastes lean to the more sexually explicit.  As the main story continues, and the subplots do as well, the reader is drawn into the lives of the main characters, those of Chad and Tim, and to a lesser degree, Sam. 
The author’s only real antagonist is the boys’ father, who seems simplistically stereotypical, never fully developed, yet who nevertheless drives the story in significant ways.  The other characters and their roles in the lives of Chad and Tim, and Sam, and their own concurrent stories have their own twists and challenges. 

Tragedy strikes and is major a turning point in the book.  This is a major plot development, and is explored and developed nicely, but the other characters’ issues are addressed and solved with great tidiness.  While this is evident in the reading, it doesn’t detract from the main storyline, and the relationship between Chad and Tim never wavers in its appeal. It is fact, quite engaging, quite erotic, and is the heart of this novel.

Despite the neat ways in which the supporting cast’s issues are wrapped up, the stories of Chad and Tim, and the tragedy that strikes are well done and excellently depicted.  Carcass of the Caterpillar¸ is highly recommended.  If the hallmark of a good book is that one finds oneself turning back in thought to it after he’s finished reading it, this book easily fits that description.

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