Sideshow of Merit

By Nicole Pietsch

Published September 16th, 2013 by namelos

Genre: New Adult

Acquired by netgalley

One Star

SIDESHOW OF MERIT is a story of abuse and recovery, of friendship and trust, of survival, of repeated failure and ultimate success, set against a backdrop of human frailty, selfishness, greed, and vulnerability. Tevan and James’s journey of is a coming-of-age story like no other.

The two main characters, “pretty” Tevan George and James Rowley have been on the run for nine years after skipping out on the sanatorium Mount Rosa in Canada in 1961 for TB testing. Tuberculosis survivors, Tevan and James are emotional wrecks. What happened in Mount Rosa? What’s happening now? This story was confusing to me, often the author tries to use the technique of going back to the past to show what happened, but not in a coherent way. It wasn’t spaced out, like chapter breaks, to really see the time it happened. Pietsch, to me, was not exactly successful in my opinion. I think pietsch held herself back from really exploring sexual abuse, and homosexuality. She censored herself while describing both subjects which made me more uncomfortable than if it was stated upfront. Two boys in the ward were called Betty and Veronica and it took me a long time to realize they were boys, and brothers. The nicknames were just thrown in.

Her writing wasn’t necessarily messy, but it wasn’t fluid either. I didn’t know where I was sometimes in the story. Some of the things she wanted to allude to, I think I missed it. At first, I wasn’t sure if the characters were supposed to be gay. Is James? I say this because, what later turns into a creepy paying gig at the sideshow, James strangles Tevan in a basically homoerotic way. It is presented in two ways: a cloaked sexual way and a disturbing act of, I don’t know, love? One of the first parts when I read about what James does to Tevan, James tries to reassure Tevan by saying “you know, I’ll never hurt you.” I had to stop. Is this a sex act he’s doing? Why do I feel cloudy and uncomfortable?

I have read gay fiction before. But, the way this was done made me think the author was just as uncomfortable writing this as I was reading it. Honestly, I did not finish the book. I tried, and tried. I never knew where it was headed. When sex acts happen, they are so veiled I had to reread it to see if it was happening. I wish she didn’t censor herself. Maybe I would have finished the book. I was just getting too annoyed over what was being hidden. I felt immense uneasy. Maybe because the way it was presented was as a no, no way. That what is happening isn’t natural, it’s bad, disgusting. There is sexual abuse in this story, I gather at least. Because, again, it’s not really told straight forward. I know problems with telling rather than showing. But, Pietsch writes it in a sketchy way. Just didn’t sit well at all with me. Maybe I don’t understand the time period it takes place in. What politically and socially was going on. I just don’t know.