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Tuesday
Apr192016

Book Review: Homo Superiors

Homo Superiors. L.A. Fields. Lethe Press, June 1, 2016, Trade Paperback, 174 pages.

Reviewed by Sue Merrell.

Everybody wants a BFF, but what would you do for friendship? That is the central question in Homo Superiors, the latest novel by L.A. Fields.

This tale of best buds is set mostly in Chicago, where Fields earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia College.

Budding geniuses, Raymond Klein and Noah Kaplan, are a pair of “strange birds.” They are both advanced students who graduated from high school at age 14. Although they live only a couple of blocks apart in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago, they don’t meet until they are recognized for standing out as unusually young scholars at the University of Chicago.

Except for their academic prowess and Jewish heritage, the two don’t seem to have much in common. Ray is a handsome manipulator who knows what face to wear to get exactly what he desires. Noah, on the other hand, is a geeky, frail sort, who sports a big nose, greasy hair, and has no sense of style. However, each boy feels the need to connect with someone of similar intelligence, someone who “gets” him.

Their friendship helps Noah to overcome his fear of the unknown so much so that he follows Ray to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Noah initially supports Ray’s appetite for adventure by committing small acts of vandalism, and eventually these small criminal acts lead to bigger crimes: arson and burglary. In return, Ray accepts Noah’s desire for sexual experimentation. Ray and Noah hit the usual snags and misunderstandings that happen with all close friendships, but they accept each other’s vulnerabilities. In addition, Noah always makes Ray laugh, and Ray, in return, encourages insecure Noah. These two have a great friendship, but will it withstand the ultimate test? Will they be able to commit the ultimate crime together?

The author has done an outstanding job of creating believable characters by going back to their basic family dynamics, and following each boy from birth through early education and childhood accomplishments. Noah, for instance, learned to speak German to his au pair as a toddler. This gave him such a penchant for languages that in college he writes notes in Sanskrit as a security measure. Ray learned to lie at age 5. This is a talent he polished and perfected into an art. A result of knowing these characters so intimately is that the reader is able to make a few concessions when the boys act up in their teens. Normally in literature, it’s quite a challenge to get a reader to support protagonists who commit crimes, especially as casually as these two do, but Fields woos the reader into the characters’ court quite successfully.

The dialogue is snappy and the writing is enticing. We get wonderful little details, like Ray’s description of a man sprawled across three seats of a crowded “L” train, eating an Entenmann’s cake with his bare hands, or Noah’s thoughts about his grammatically inferior professors. Chicago locations, such as Lake Shore Drive and Lincoln Park Zoo, are mentioned, but don’t expect lengthy descriptions. This is much more a tale of people than place.

For murder mystery fans, the story ends too soon, before the real complications set in, but those who enjoy a good psychological drama should be satisfied.

 

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