“Justice isn’t about fixing the past; it’s about healing the past’s future.” ― Jackson Burnett
Justin South’s Paul & Sam is the story of two nineteen-year-old boys who are brought together in a rather coincidental fashion and under some fairly serendipitous circumstances, as their lives had intertwined some years before in a near-tragic way, and now that this connection has been revealed years later, is subsequently manipulated and transformed into a romantic relationship. There is no build up to these boys falling in love because they were in love before they ever really met, which is a significant plot-point and one I won’t reveal. Suffice it to say I needed a bit more to help me to buy into their relationship.
This author’s storytelling style definitely lends itself to a heart-on-the-sleeve sort of romanticism, in the Harlenquin-esque fashion of purple prose and florid dialogue that didn’t quite feel realistic or germane to nineteen year old boys, nor did I feel it lent itself well to either the juxtaposing slang or the sometimes awkwardly crafted sexual dialogue and narrative that honestly failed to come across as natural to any two teenagers, let alone two teenage boys.
There was a point in this story—a plot that’s part hardship, part murder mystery, part supernatural drama, part implausible machination—in which some of the characters were portrayed as so entirely flawless that I anxiously, and gleefully, awaited the “Stepford Wives” moment, the moment in which it would be revealed that these people who had so insistently dragged Paul (a downtrodden, sexually assaulted, homeless boy) into their midst, were up to far more sinister pursuits than it appeared on the surface.
I waited for that “Aha!” moment when it would all come to a head and Paul would barely escape with his life…but when it didn’t happen, I have to say I was left with little more than the feeling these characters were too perfect to be more than one-dimensional. There was kindness and generosity and compassion, but all those lovely traits needed to be layered with flaws and quirks and the imperfections that would have made them feel realistic and relatable. In too many instances, this lack of realism caused the storyline to feel disingenuous and kept those who peopled it at a distance. When all was said and done, I wasn’t able to connect with the lives these characters were living because I couldn’t suspend disbelief to the extent that the author needed me to in order to remain engaged.
For every reader there is an author. For every author there is a reader. When the perfect storm happens and a reader discovers an author with whom they connect—through story, characterization, writing style—as far as I’m concerned, there’s little that’s more satisfying for an avid book lover.
But sadly, not every reader and every author click, which is the case with Justin South, his book Paul & Sam, and me. I must say I liked the premise of this story—the search for an innocent young man’s killer—loved that the abusers, who were repeat sexual offenders, were ultimately brought to justice, and I do genuinely love the promise that there is still selfless kindness in this world. I simply felt it all could’ve have been shown and told much more effectively.
While I can’t say I enthusiastically recommend Paul & Sam, I can say that there are readers out there who will feel an affinity for it if they can relate to the author’s style of delivery and the ways in which he gets this story told.