Posted in Random Things Tours

This Is How We Are Human by Louise Beech.

I absolutely loved this incredible book about love, disability, sex and the secrets we keep from each other. Veronica and her son Sebastian live together in Hull. Veronica wants the best for her son and just like all parents, she wants him to grow up and have a full life. However, Veronica isn’t like other parents, because despite Sebastian being twenty years, six months and two days old, he’s struggling with the love and relationships part of his life. Seb is autistic and he is lonely. Seb loves swimming, his fish, fried eggs and Billy Ocean, he’d also love to have sex but no one will have sex with him. He’s already been in trouble after the girl next door convinced him to write an explicit letter to her underage sister. When their lives collide with Violetta, Veronica thinks she can see a way forward. She’s thought of paying someone before, but has stopped herself. Here though, is someone they’ve met before and who was natural with Seb. Veronica couldn’t have known she was leading a double life as a high class escort, in order to earn enough money to keep her seriously ill father at home. These three lives come together and change each other in unexpected ways.

There were scenes in this that made me laugh and some that made me cry. His need for sexual release is having a huge impact on his carefully ordered life. His swimming sessions have continued at the same time and day of the week, all the way from childhood, but his inability to see why his nakedness is different to the children’s has meant they must stop. When Veronica takes Seb to the sexual health clinic, because she’s desperate for advice, their lack of help and understanding infuriated me. The nurse seemed more concerned about whether Seb might hurt someone, or how Veronica’s thoughts about paying for it would be harming him. She even threatens to report her to social services. There’s no compassion or admission that they really don’t know what to do. It’s an issue I’ve thought about for a long time, having supported people with learning difficulties or autistic spectrum disorders in an advocacy role. Sadly, the figures for sexual violence against women with learning disabilities are terrifyingly high. While young people are often infantilised by parents who don’t want to accept their child is an adult. I read many years ago about an initiative in Holland very like our Direct Payments/Personal Budget system for care if you have a disability. However, social workers could add a component that would pay for the disabled person (physical disabilities) to hire a sex worker if they needed that for an sexual outlet. As Seb himself says:

‘People seem to get dead upset about it. But it’s just like paying for swimming lessons. You want to learn to do it and someone who knows how to will show you for an agreed fee’.

He sees it as a simple business transaction. Offsetting the worry, sadness and anger I felt in their behalf it’s Seb’s frankness that brings the humour. His mother greets him in the morning with a cheery ‘what do you want to do today?’ and his reply is ‘I want to have sex’. He goes on to explain that he might pay for sex:

‘If I was rich. But I’m not. I’ll just have to find someone who appreciates me before I die. I hope it’s this week. I’m feeling very sexual today.’

Seb is such a loveable and interesting character. He’s also handsome, so does draw attention from women when out and about, but Veronica knows that as soon as he speaks they will start to lose interest. She meets with Violetta and proposes her plan. However, there are real ethical concerns here and everyone is keeping secrets. Veronica isn’t planning on telling Seb the truth about his ‘sessions’ with Violetta, but she isn’t planning on telling Seb she’s been hired or why she needs the money. Seb has his own secrets and there is an ending to this that neither woman envisaged, showing a prejudice they didn’t know they had. They’ve discussed concerns that Seb may become attached to his tutor, but they didn’t imagine that she might become compromised in some way or that Seb might transfer his affections to someone new.

This is brave new ground in fiction. I have a physical disability, and I can count on one hand books that have a disabled character who openly discusses or explores their sexuality. This is almost society’s last taboo – the sexual disabled body is not to be looked at or mentioned. This is partly about the infantilisation of people with disabilities, they need care and are therefore vulnerable and untouchable. It’s partly to do with an innate reflex to reject what is different – often the fear of urine bags, colostomy bags, and other paraphernalia is so great, that the person becomes neutral to other people and they close their minds to the fact that this person is a sexual being. We saw this prejudice in action with the controversy around Marc Quinn’s statue of Alison Lapper. Not only was this a disabled woman who was naked, she was also pregnant. People rejected her body strongly, calling it ugly and disgusting. However, I think a large part of the furore was down to people being uncomfortable that Lapper’s pregnancy was a visual clue of a healthy sex life. Most of the same people would probably be uncomfortable with this book, but I was so excited to see the issue out in the open. We need to talk about it more. People with disabilities are having sex, often more adventurous and inventive sex, because they have to communicate more and find a way round their disability. It’s only by talking about it that we start to break down these prejudices and accept that a healthy sex life is a normal part of life for all adults able to consent. This was a difficult subject, handled with frankness, but also the greatest care and sensitivity. I’m so grateful that this talented writer turned her hand to this subject, writing characters that felt utterly real and incredibly relatable. It was funny, moving, and full of love, of every kind.

Meet The Author

Louise Beech is an exceptional literary talent, whose debut novel How To Be Brave was a Guardian Readers’ Choice for 2015. The follow-up, The Mountain in My Shoe was shortlisted for Not the Booker Prize. Both of her previous books Maria in the Moon and The Lion Tamer Who Lost were widely reviewed, critically acclaimed and number-one bestsellers on Kindle. The Lion Tamer Who Lost was shortlisted for the RNA Most Popular Romantic Novel Award in 2019. Her 2019 novel Call Me Star Girl won Best magazine Book of the Year, and was followed by I Am Dust.

Posted in Random Things Tours

Gravity Well by Marc Rahe

#RandomThingsTours #GravityWell #Poetry #BlogTour

My Thoughts | I haven’t read any new poetry for a long time so I jumped at the chance to read this new collection. For me, poetry is very emotional. It’s about whether a poem connects with my feelings in some way; is the poet describing something I recognise, something I’ve felt or seen? There tend to be certain images that make me stop and think and Marc Rahe’s new collection Gravity Well did all of these things and resurrected my interest in poetry.

Some images made me smile because of how clever they were or because of the beautiful combination of words. In Writer Friend the narrator describes an unsettled afternoon as a ‘forecast-come-true afternoon of cloudy and scattered’. I also loved the Schroedinger reference in Our Shared Life of ‘The bee trapped with you inside/ your helmet in traffic, will or will not’. It made me think of that moment before something happens. In that moment, playing simultaneously in the biker’s mind, are the bee that stings and the bee he successfully releases back into the world unharmed. We get another sense of the in-between reading his poem Stellar, as if moments in time are simply Russian dolls with each possibility stacked within each other – touching but separate:

‘This tree was my favorite the day it rained during my walk. Uncanny when it’s raining and it’s sunny at the same time. As if being in someone’s presence and feeling the presence of their ghost’.

Another line I loved was ‘the air was as wet as dog’s breath’ because it made me feel the humidity of a wet day in August, that moisture hangs like warm misted breath in the air.

There were also themes running through the work that interest me greatly, because of my own writing work which is focused on how the body, particularly a faulty or malfunctioning body, interacts with the world. Rahe has a way of describing age and the changes of the body that are surprising and moving. In his poem Appetite I loved the following section:

‘I’ve been reopened along the same incision

and though metal plates and wires, metal screws,

can only be said to ache, I say

it is the metal in this leg that tells me

the sky is so full of mountains and trenches

as the ocean, metal that warns me

of my own weight held past a certain angle from the center.’

I love how he describes the constant ache of the structure that holds the speaker’s leg together, but it isn’t a negative statement, it’s just something that’s there. Also it’s a way of gauging the world, like I know if my joints ache it’s going to be wet or if my muscles seize it’s going to be cold. The unnatural pins and wires he needs for his limb to work naturally, actually link him to the natural world too – to the heights and lows of the lands, and even how the force of gravity can be sensed as he finds the balance of walking with these metal supports.

In Fable of the Cephalopod he uses humour to describe a sense of coughing up a foreign body, something that feels like ‘an octopus that was trying to wear a sweater’ giving the reader a sense of how stuck it feels, trying to force eight woollen legs from the ‘wrong bronchial tree’. Later he describes the moment of having a blood test, very routine for me and others who are ill, but tense all the same. He perfectly describes that moment when you almost hate yourself for trying to make the medics life easier. When you feel guilty for being difficult, as if you could control the way your veins and body work:

‘at a blood draw my vein resisted the needle. The needle

slipped aside inside my arm, despite repeated attempts. I made,

for the phlebotomist, a joke I hoped would defuse her growing anxiety.’

I felt a connection with parts of the work, and as always with poetry, I know that re-reading will bring further meaning and interpretation, depending on my mood. Poetry’s meaning lies with the readers once it has left the author’s pen. It may well have had an original meaning, but really the beauty of poetry comes out when the reader brings their ‘stuff’ to the poem. I’m sure there are other bloggers who have had totally different experiences with the images and themes but that’s the beauty of it, it can touch a multitude of people very differently. I thought this was an imaginative and thoughtful collection from a poet I’d never read before. It sparked my interest in poetry again and I am looking forward to reading more for the blog and for my own enjoyment.

Other Reviews | Marc Rahe’s luminous poems find grace in acts of intentional remembrance, in turning back to sing ‘what can be seen / looking behind.’ The speaker’s world resembles our own fraught moment–fallen, divided–but never numb. These poems hum with moments of transcendence, between body and weather, air and breath, between today’s pain and the deep wounds of the past. In precise, lucid lyrics, this voice insists that our capacity to feel is what binds us, ecstatically, to our planet and to one another.–Kiki Petrosino

Ever since his first book, THE SMALLER HALF, was published, I’ve kept my eyes open for new work by Marc Rahe, and whenever new work has come, I’ve celebrated, actually celebrated. No poet writing in English today is better at making poems stuffed full of being and of things seen, things heard, things touched, things tasted, and things thought hard about nonetheless quiet. And yet, though they approach silence, these poems resonate, and, like Rahe’s previous work, they will resonate for years.–Shane McCrae

Biography | Marc Rahe is the author of THE SMALLER HALF (Rescue Press, 2010), ON HOURS (Rescue Press, 2015), and GRAVITY WELL (Rescue Press, 2020). His poems have appeared in The Iowa Review, jubilat, MAKE Literary Magazine, PEN Poetry Series, Sixth Finch, and other literary journals. He lives in Iowa City.