The Bangor Daily News - June 5, 2002

By John N. Cole, Special to the NEWS Last updated: Monday, June 3, 2002

Writer's style brings Texas murder to life

Book details horror of homophobic slaying

ALL WE HAVE IS NOW, by Robert Taylor, St. Martin's Press, New York, 2002, $23.95.

Written with such artless simplicity that it flows like a long letter to a good friend, this book, nevertheless, stays with you. There are no surprises. The author, a journalist and decorated Vietnam vet who now lives in Blue Hill, takes us along on his protagonist's journey through much of his life. It's as if we rode with him as a passenger in a canoe following the course of a crystal clear stream, a stream that we know.

The journey should have special relevance for Bangor readers, however, many of whom may still remember the homophobic murder of a young man, beaten and tossed to his death off a downtown Bangor bridge. For this book also describes, in wrenching detail, the brutal beating and murder of a handsome and talented young man by a pair of homophobic Texas bullies.

This, the roadside murder of Jimmy Davidson, is the novel's centerpiece, the drama that drives the rest of the story. But it fits so seamlessly into Taylor's effortless and intimate prose that many readers will be left wondering if ours is a nation where random violence against homosexuals is merely part of life in these United States. For this writer's unique voice has a way of making the unspeakable as real and as routine as a morning cup of coffee or a walk in the park.

This is deceptive prose, so personal, so direct, so startlingly simple that it belies its central truth. We meet the protagonist, Ian McBride, a top-billing actor in a Washington, D.C., theater group, shortly after his longtime partner has died of AIDS. Bereft, McBride purposely avoids relationships, wanting no further emotional commitments of such intensity.

But when he plays opposite Jimmy in Shakespeare's "Tempest," he falls deeply in love. Almost before the relationship can gather momentum, however, Jimmy takes a plane to Texas to attend his mother's 50th birthday celebration. One evening just after he leaves a restaurant, he is beaten to death on a rural roadside.

Stunned by the tragedy, traumatized by the second death within just a few years of a man he loved, McBride decides he will go to Texas to be there for the trial of one of the two men arrested for the murder. This is the least he owes Jimmy.

It is the story of that trial that is Taylor's finest achievement. He captures every nuance, the give and take between defender and prosecutor, the legal details of every judicial decision. We are at the trial. We listen to the words that define the sickening realities of homophobia in America. And we are left to wonder if there will ever come a time when a person's sexuality, whatever it may be, becomes a matter of no more concern than the color of his shirt or the style of her sweater.

Every detail of the trial is reported. Taylor's journalistic training and experience come through loud and clear. We are there each day in that rural Texas courtroom examining the motivations for random violence, the reasons for fatal compulsions and the ongoing failures of our society to effectively deal with them. Quite suddenly Taylor's easygoing, fluid prose, that clear stream of words that floats us along the currents of a man's life in America, begins to run faster. We are quite alert now, paying attention to every turbulent moment, even though we know where this stream is taking us.

We've been there before, yet we are totally absorbed by this trip. This is the author's singular achievement. He makes it seem so easy. You close this novel wondering why you know it's going to stay with you for a long time to come. It's because you've been taken to a small Texas town and witnessed, firsthand, the violence that happens somewhere in the nation almost every day. That's what stays with you.

John Cole is a free-lance writer from Brunswick.