Kelly. Christopher. “A Push and a Shove”, Alyson Books, 2007.
Christopher Kelly makes his debut into the world of literature with “A Push and a Shove” and he does so impressively. His work is elegant and graceful even if the topic about which he writes is not. This novel has suspense and obsession and keeps the reader on the edge of his seat from cover to cover.
Ben Reilly is tortured by memories of having been bullied at school and he wants to put those demons to rest. He had been tormented by Terrence O’Connell, an extremely good looking boy, who is now a successful writer living in Manhattan. O’Connell, however, is not at peace with himself; he is seeking his own identity. The two men, once enemies, form a friendship and long hidden motives and hidden secrets are slowly revealed.
Kelly paints an intriguing and disturbing portrait of a bully and his victim and his novel shows how hatred when pushed far and hard enough can resemble love and the opposite. He gives us an emotional look at what resides in obsessions and the damage it can cause on both the bully and the one he bullies and on the lover and the loved. This is a complex story and has many layers which moves between past and present with fluidity and as it does, it reveals how the characters, and us, ourselves, keep within the wounds and the crimes of our youth.
Ben Reilly is a character who is doubly faceted—we love him and we see him as a psycho. As he narrates his story of closure and the revenge that he uses to get it, we find, ourselves, fearing and rooting for him. He is a strong character who seems to be devoid of character. The way that Kelly examines the nature of the relationship between Ben and Terrence and the consequences when Ben is determined to make the score even between the two, you realize that this is one storyline that you are not likely to forget.
The book is a fantasy but like all fantasies it has a basis in truth and that truth is that all of us would like to pay back those who called us names and made fun of our sexuality. We see where hate, love and sexual desire intersect each other and it is a fearsome experience. The truth of the matter is that the novel is very real and expresses what so many of us want to do but choose not to.
Kelly’s prose mesmerizes and causes us to keep reading until the end and it is rare that this happens in a first book and it speaks to all of us who have felt torment during our formative years. We can use this book as a way of getting back at our own bullies. Many of us experienced homophobia of some kind during our younger days and it hurt so much more then than it does now. Then we had no one; we were alone in the world or at least we thought so and we had no way of fighting back. This never leaves us and Kelly provides us with a way to help us try to forget.