Sunday, August 19, 2012

"To Reach the Stars"

Review – “To Touch the Stars” by Jeremy Pack

Amazing epic story of love and courage

Very Highly Recommended

From the time he was an almost-teen in the early 1950’s, Nicholas Sullivan was fascinated with flying and the stars. His father, a pilot during WWII, filled the young boy’s ears full of stories of derring-do, and it shouldn’t have come as any surprise when at the age of twelve, Nick was stealing off under cover of night to take his dad’s crop-dusting plane off to try to get as close as he could to the edge of the sky.

At the same time, young Tait Williams was keeping his eyes much more to the earth. Usually in a book. As his mother noted, both wryly and with wonder, the boy was an old soul and wise beyond his years. His future, even then, was tied to writing and his dreams, while lofty, were fixed on the Pulitzer Prize.

Their lives, even then, took them in such different directions. Young Nick would grow and enter the fledgling NASA astronaut program of the early sixties as part of President Kennedy’s pledge to reach the moon within ten years. And Tait, he would finish college and start his career as a newspaper beat writer and copy editor.

Across the backdrop of thirty years – the triumphs and tragedies of the Apollo manned launches, the Vietnam War, the Killing Fields of Cambodia, the early days of AIDS, love, marriages, deaths, babies, families – we are introduced to Nick and Tait’s lives. Their families, their friends, their loves, joys and sorrows. We meet Bill, Alex, Eleanor, the Senator, Vannak and Nkeah, Isabella, and Adam.

We see how fate and life hinge on small moments and seemingly minor encounters – what ifs. What if an unexpected nudge in the right direction didn’t happen? An offer of a job was missed. A gentle push from an unexpected source went to someone else. Even the unwilling granting of the second chance to make a better impression never materialized.

Will Nick and Tait be the biggest what if – what if the slow, inevitable dance of two people drawn to each other was stopped in its tracks because same-sex relationships are a generation away from being utterly forbidden and career-killing?

Jeremy Pack has written an exquisitely crafted ode to dreams, men and love. He’s taken a deceptively simple puzzle piece – boy meets boy – and gently and lovingly added piece after piece, layer upon layer of subtle grace and power until the complete, stunning panorama is shown. He’s spanned thirty years of almosts, not quites…of close. Of missed chances, of regrets.

This is a truly remarkable book. Mr. Pack keeps his hand firmly on the wheel, never allowing the story to veer, keeping his voice as pure and sweet as any I’ve read. His description of Nick’s exuberance at flying is as controlled and beautiful as is the horror of the Khmer Rouge and the Killing Fields of Cambodia he so hauntingly shows us.

This work is a treasure. I stayed up two nights reading it, and longed for more of Nick and Tait when I was finished. These are the men who paved the road for me as a gay man, and in turn my generation – gutted and devastated and maybe a little jaded in the time of HIV – has hopefully blazed a path for today’s gay youth.

This is a special book. Buy it, savor it, and fall in love a little. I did.

This is quite possible the best book of the year.


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