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Monday, January 22, 2007

Book review: The Gathering, by Ronald L. Donaghe

As someone who reads every book the prolific and talented Ronald L. Donaghe writes, I waited quite a long time for this particular novel. The series Common Threads in the Life began with Common Sons, a gay classic that went out of print for a while then eventually came back as a print-on-demand book. And the demand definitely existed!

Donaghe then continued his series with The Salvation Mongers, a searing look at the ex-gay movement. That second book used some of the same settings and characters. The couple from the first novel again took center stage in The Blind Season, which introduced readers to a much larger extended family.

Donaghe kept saying he was writing a book called The Gathering, which would bring together the Common Threads characters. Fortunately, he changed his mind about The Gathering concluding the series. At least one more novel remains. Of course, he writes other series as well, but this review strictly focuses on Common Threads.

Tom and Joel, the two young men who come out and fall in love as the title characters of Common Sons, are now in their fifties. The daughter they fathered during The Blind Season is now a grown, fascinating woman, and the mother of that daughter has also forged her own identity as an independent woman who has overcome a troubled past. In The Salvation Mongers, Kelly works to expose the ex-gay group that had caused suffering in his life. In The Gathering, he falls back into Tom and Joel’s life, along with an old enemy.

I would call The Blind Season the darkest part of the series, and this novel shares some of that book’s gritty tragedy. However, the spotlight soon returns to the relationships of The Gathering’s large—and mostly lovable—cast. The characters spring as naturally from the New Mexico landscape as the agrarian life they enjoy. Instead of catty, stereotypical queens in a New York City coffee shop, Donaghe gives us three-dimensional people that represent the lives of countless gays across countless small towns. He also gives us heterosexual characters who often surprise us in their ability or inability to overcome prejudice.

As other reviewers often note, Donaghe also gives us gay couples who work hard to create lasting relationships—with or without gay role models. Tom and Joel’s hard work on their farm constantly mirrors their hard work at making a better life for themselves and other gays. Donaghe not only imagines that possibility, but presents it in an appealing, memorable novel.