At a very young age Joey Douglas' father told him he had to roll with the punches. It would be years before Joey finally understood what that meant. To the outside world the Douglas clan was a perfect family, cut straight out from the 1950s. He had two older sisters, Kathy and Mary, his mother was a Donna Reed clone and his father was the disciplinarian. But Joey always felt different. Not every boy in his small Kentucky town identified with female movie characters, not every boy loved Hayley Mills or was obsessed with Doris Day and musicals. By the sixth grade while other boys were trying to impress the girls, Joey was thinking about boys. In the early 1960s, Joey didn't know what being gay was. With no one to turn to, Joey fell in with the wrong crowd. He had his first taste of alcohol and marijuana in the seventh grade. Rather than acknowledge his feelings, Joey thought he found the answer to his problems in drugs and alcohol.
Unfortunately, Joey becomes prone to drunken blackouts. During those blackouts Joey would feel his true feeling towards men, leading to beatings from other kids who didn't want to know who Joey really was. Telling his parents where the bruises came from would mean telling them the truth about his sexual orientation. Joey has always been seeking his father's approval, and he doesn't believe he'll get it by revealing the truth. Putting on dance shows and a stand-up comedy acts become Joey's therapy.
Joey moves to New York after high school, in hopes of making it big on Broadway. How wrong he was. The drinking doesn't stop. He meets a religious married couple, Joan and Morgan, and convinces them that the only way to salvation is for Joey to have an affair with Morgan. This is where the book starts to deviate off the path for me. Up to this point, everything Joey has gone through is very believable. His struggles with identity and alcoholism are prevalent in every society. But his affair with Morgan just seemed stupid and unnecessary. His life in New York eventually crumbles, and Joey reluctantly returns to Kentucky. Once home he continues to drink, mostly in secret rather than admit his problems.
A move to California doesn't help either. He starts off well, going to school and living with relatives. But he sinks deeper into drug addiction and promiscuity. A suicide attempt leads to a rather funny stint in the hospital. Suicide is not funny, but the exchanges between Joey and a nurse are. "I had no intention of telling the truth in a place with doorknobs only on the outside. The interrogation continued. 'What's your name?' 'Joey' 'What's your last name?' 'What' 'What's your last name? Joey what?' 'Joey what?' 'Yes, Joey what?' 'Joey what'" The exchange as author Jamie Kerrick points out is reminiscent of an Abbott and Costello routine. After failure in California, Joey returns home still trying to come to turns with his sexual orientation and drug abuse and alcoholism.
If you come to this book with an open mind there many elements of the books one can identify with. I found myself getting tired with Joey's act. How many drunken blackouts does a person need before you realize it isn't working? How high do you need to be before you realize drugs are bad for you? But just before I decided I was done with Joey, I realized that this is really what the cycle of addiction must be like. Kerrick's language is very blunt, so adults only on this one. Language aside, the pace of the story is very quick and Kerrick does a good job with a difficult subject.
Notes: I received a copy of the book from the author in exchange for an honest review.
The giveaway for The Souls of the Fire Dragon is now closed. Thanks to Rhoni Wilkins for agreeing to read the book!!