“Clay’s Way” – by Blair Mastbaum

Cover ImageGrowing up on Hawaii’s Oahu island, Sam uses his appearance as a rebellion against who he’s expected to be. But he has deeper differences irreconcilable with the community in which he lives. And then there’s Clay…

Clay’s Way is a gay coming-of-age tale focusing on a rebellious sixteen year-old skater who is dealing not just with growing up gay in a predominately straight community, but also with a growing infatuation for an eighteen year-old surfer named Clay. Gay coming-of-age tales can be like a drug for me. They take me back in time to the confusion of growing up: the obsessions, the small romances and the internal struggle to fit in where you’re not really wanted. It’s quite often so easy for me to relate that the story comes alive. This novel was no exception even though the setting was quite different from my own adolescence, and even though Sam is a very different person to who I was when growing up. I felt an immediate affinity with Sam that was both the joy and pain of reading this story.

After Clay and Sam become friends the reader begins to realise that Sam’s infatuation with Clay is not necessarily one-sided. And this is where the author starts toying with the reader. There are some pretty big obstacles for these adolescents to overcome before they can find happiness together. Sam is the inexperienced and somewhat imbalanced younger party and lacks the confidence to be himself or even understand himself. His longing for Clay makes him reckless and stupid but very rarely assertive. Clay lives in complete denial. As the two get closer, he completely shuts off the meaning of their interactions and when their fledgling relationship becomes physical he is unable to integrate the experience emotionally. Given Sam’s obsession, such denial was bound to lead to a crisis – and it does.

There is a point on a camping trip the boys take to the island of Kauai when the reader thinks that maybe Sam and Clay have reached a point at which they can stop ricocheting off each other and start taking some kind of journey together.  However, they are merely in the eye of the storm. Sam’s unstable obsession can’t handle happiness with any kind of compromise and Clay only needs one set-back to retreat into his self-protective denial. The book ends with a sucker punch to the reader all the more brutal because the portrayal of the characters is so honest and the ending seemingly inevitable, like a Shakespearean tragedy.

So after all of this, what do I think? Well, I discovered that this novel won the award for debut gay fiction in the 17th annual Lambda Literary Awards in 2004, a set of awards for LGBT fiction. From a story and characterisation point of view I would say that such an award would be well-deserved. However, here’s my issue. This story had too many copy-editing problems. They seemed to get worse in the second half of the book. They didn’t end up spoiling my enjoyment of the story because I was so swept up in the edification and destruction of Sam that I started to gloss over errors as I was reading. But how would such errors not disqualify this novel from receiving a literary award? It baffles me and, to be honest, it annoys me.

In the end, I need to cut back a little on my enthusiasm when it comes to scoring this work which is a wretched shame given that it had such an impact on me. To me, it was a 4.5 star story with a 2.5 star editing job. So what’s left is an average that’s almost as painful as the story itself.

Rating: 3.5/5

Price at the time of review: $7.00 US

Available: Amazon

Author site: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/207349.Blair_Mastbaum
GoodReads page: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/362128.Clay_s_Way

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