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Review of Gravy In The Pie by J. H. HAYES

See full issue for 2017 07-17
by Bill Kieffer

The Rundown

Carl Jr. is an old Texas Queen with a flair for the dramatic and long rambling sentences.

Set in modern day Texas, Carl and his “kissing cousin” Bubba Gene, have had to fight for acceptance since an early age when their homosexuality became suspected. Smack dab in the bible belt, life was never easy for “honey boys” as they called themselves.

The novella begins with Carl Jr putting his life on hold to meet up and possibly marry a younger, virile Irish man. When the affair barely outlasts the first dose of Viagra, Carl Jr tries to recapture his early glory days of bar-hopping and bath-house adventures. He returns to Texas feeling his age.

Things do not improve at a family gathering, especially when the pecan pies he brings disappoints the dozens of cousins there to sample Grannny’s super secret recipe… a family staple of their mutual childhoods.

Stunned by his own reaction to everyone’s disappointment, and a few revelations of family secrets, Carl Jr. decides to set things right by restoring Granny’s recipe to its full glory and to help protect and uplift his LGBT nephew who is ready to come out as Trans.

The Recommendation

This story has heart but there are some flinch worthy moments in the first fifth of the book. Carl Jr. is hamming it enough to make a drag queen blush and it served more exposition than comedy. The cast of family members that account for Carl’s bitterness and distrust are just too thick with too similar names to take or to fully recall after the failed elopement to Ireland.

And when we do meet the family he distrusts so, they come en masse as a gaggle of clucking hens. By the end of the family gathering, I knew none of them… except that the seed is planted in Carl’s head that some of them aren’t as bad as he maybe thought.

Carl Jr and Bubba Gene bloom once Carl Jr. put aside chasing his glory days and begins investigating and experimenting with the pie recipe. Carl’s business mind is impressive and I enjoyed watching him pursuing all the variables. Bubba Gene has a minor supporting role, guiding Carl with well placed revelations and support. It was not comedy gold, but it was wonderful writing.

Watching Carl Jr. build a support network from scratch for his cousin’s sister and her child, made me believe that Carl Jr was more than the drama queen stereotype he appeared in the first third of the book. It also made believe in J.H. Hayes’s ability to create real people.

This seems more like a lighthearted memoir than the promised humorous satire on fundamentalism. Sure, there’s the obvious Christian hypocrisy you find in the bible belt. That’s funny in the sense that it’s the 21st Century and we still have to deal with this shit. And getting past the middle age hump is always good for a laugh no matter the orientation, but I wanted more.

I wanted a Texan Armistead Maupin, fair of me or not.

If the author returns to these characters, I would like to see more conflict, and not just confrontations like we had at the end of the book. The best parts of this novella was watching Carl Jr rise the challenge he put in front of himself (and I’m not asking for more Viagra moments). Carl figured out the problem, set out to fix things, discovered how to fix things, and threw money in the right direct.

Which, of course, is a perfectly great way to deal with real life problems.

But its not a great way to unfold a story.

The preacher man was never seen. Sherleen’s combative and abusive ex might as well be a ghost. Randi never calls Carl Jr out for using females pronouns on himself, in third person, never using SHE for Randi. Randi stays “nephew” even after Randi comes out to him. Other than a few imperfect pies and four wasted Viagra pills, Carl suffers no setbacks. Sure, the river scene was funny and embarrassing for the “kissing cousins,” but its totally not connected to the plot in any way.

The Rating Reviewer Rating: 2.5 Stars

2.5 Stars (out of 5): Needs work. This book has promise, and with the help of an editing team, it could easily be reworked into a professional manuscript.

The Pros & Cons

Pros: Believable, Characterization
Cons: Character Developement, Starts slow, Wordy

The Links

More about Gravy In The Pie on UBR

The Reviewer

Bill Kieffer

Blurring the Line between Gifted and Twisted Every Day, that’s my motto. I am a writer, mostly fantasy and science fiction. I am into anthropomorphics and transformation. When I imagine myself, I see a horse trying to plow a field without a farmer steering him. I get some of what I want accomplished, but not everything.

My book is very indy and very adult. THE GOAT: Building The Perfect Victim from Red Ferret Press.

Recent publications include half a dozen short stories in anthologies from Fur Nation and Thurston Howl Press.

My latest book, The Goat: Building the Perfect Victim, won the Coyotl Award for Best Novella of 2016. In the first half of 2018, COLD BLOOD: Fatal Fables, should be out from Australia’s Jaffa Press.

Visit Bill Kieffer‘s website.

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