“…I became a clown for the usual reason – because things didn’t work out. On a grand scale. That’s the cliché of clown stories. I know. Yet I didn’t go bankrupt or lose my family in a tornado or anything like that. I lost Jimmy, which amounted to the same and then some.
Because it was like a tornado, the way it came, leaving nothing behind but dust and ruination – and Jimmy’s voice as he grabbed hard ahold of my wrist with what strength he had left, his big hollow dark eyes looking at me: ‘Don’t forget to take me back the way I came, Seamus…road’s the place for lost souls.’
The question that was my face.
I nodded. Then I kissed him on the forehead and sat holding his hand, listening to the rhythm of his breathing – and humming along with it – as he made his way toward sleep.
Jimmy was a song, see? And the song’s over. Let me tell you the story. You read and I’ll hum…”
I was first introduced to the writing of award winning author Trebor Healey through his politically charged and brilliantly eloquent short story “Trunk,” featured in the 2009 Cleis Press anthology Fool For Love: New Gay Fiction. In 2012, Mr. Healey released A Horse Named Sorrow, an exquisitely written and heart-rending story of twenty-one year-old Seamus Blake who meets and falls in love with strong and self-possessed Jimmy. But their time together proves short-lived, as Jimmy dies of AIDS-related illness. The grieving Seamus (or Shame, as named by Jimmy) is obliged to keep a promise to Jimmy: “Take me back the way I came.” Shame sets out from San Francisco on Jimmy’s bicycle – Chief Joseph – with Jimmy’s ashes, to bring him back home to Buffalo.
Narrated in the first person by Seamus in retrospective, the story unfolds in a non-linear fashion alternating between present and past. Part Odyssey and part pilgrimage, Mr. Healey chronicles Seamus’ journey on bicycle from San Francisco to Buffalo, and the people from all walks of life that he meets along the way – in particular Eugene and his cousin Louis – who bring a new perspective on his own life and on Jimmy’s death. The story also provides vignettes of Shame and Jimmy’s relationship and life together, and of Seamus’ care of Jimmy when he falls ill.
Mr. Healey’s writing is pure poetry set in narrative form and the imagery, which is wrapped in Native American histories, teachings and spirituality, as well as Christian symbolism, is absolutely stunning. The character of Seamus is both a tragic and inspirational figure. Through the richness of his inner dialogue Shame’s pain and sorrow at the loss of Jimmy is heart-wrenchingly palpable, but at the same time his wisdom and observations in respect of all matter of life and living prove politically and socially insightful and often darkly humorous.
Throughout the story Seamus pulls – at first to love and care for Jimmy as best he can with moments of hidden hope at somehow preventing the inevitable, and then through his promise to take Jimmy back the way he came, which becomes a search for salvation from his grief and purpose for his existence.
I absolutely loved this novel. It is without question the most beautiful story I read in 2013, but it is also the saddest, and I savoured each and every word.
“…It was raining lightly, and I opened my mouth and I drank of it, closing my eyes, and as I did I saw Jimmy in full health, dye-blond and scruffy, his big brown eyes, and his say-nothing smile. He held one finger to his mouth, and with the other hand he reached out a wet finger to place on my tongue like a eucharist, and then he blessed me: In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. And I knew then that I was forgiven…and Jimmy…it must be day forty-nine…Jimmy’s being born.”
A Horse Named Sorrow by Trebor Healey is available at Amazon.
Music: One – U2 (Achtung Baby, 1991)
Oh my Indie, A Horse Named Sorrow is such a deeply touching book. I was blown away by it when I read it in December of 2012. It was one of my favorite books of that year, and I believe it is just one of my favorite books, period. There are so many excellent books out there about the HIV/AIDS plague, but Trebor Healey’s take on the subject kept me rooted in the reality of it, while taking me somewhere else.
I am so happy that you loved it!
I could go on and on about this book. It’s absolutely stunning. And you put it quite well – rooted in reality while taking the reader somewhere else at the same time. It made my list of favourite reads for 2013, but you’re right, it will be an all time favourite. Period.
In many respects the writing reminded me of Tomson Highway’s Kiss of the Fur Queen – not only for its obvious Native American themes, but more so the feeling of “otherworldliness” firmly rooted in reality.
In terms of other excellent fiction dealing with the subject matter of HIV/AIDS you must read Alex Jeffers’ Safe As Houses (if you haven’t already) – it’s equally unforgettable.