By Jim Provenzano $14.95; CreateSpace; 258 pages
You never forget your first love. With this, his fourth novel, Jim Provenzano offers a lovely, lyrical tale of love at first sight that tugs at the heartstrings.
In the late 1970s, studious Reid and Everett, a privileged boy from the town's wealthiest family, meet in the woods on a cold winter's night. They have sex on the spot, but it doesn't end there. Over the course of a weekend, they fall deeply in love.
But life throws them many curve balls. There's the class difference. Everett attends a private school hundreds of miles away, so the time they can spend together is limited. With heart and humor, the author details those first few weeks of what looks to be a long-term relationship. We share the boys' excitement as they send each other packages, and speak on the phone when they can. When they meet for occasional weekends, we share in their joy. It's a beautiful story that will bring back warm-hearted memories for many readers. We've all been there.
Provenzano told Windy City Times why he made his story a period piece: "The time and age of the two protagonists is the same as mine, but the story's completely made up. I wanted to set a work in this special moment in time, when, as a teenager, I felt very okay about being gay, and people around me did as well. Plus, I didn't particularly care to write about an era of cell phones and Facebook just yet."
The story is primarily set in small-town Pennsylvania, with a few visits to the big city of Pittsburgh thrown in. With his elegantly written prose, the author draws his readers back to a fondly remembered time when young gay men were free to explore their sexuality without fear of HIV.
The book draws part of its power from Provenzano's sharp descriptions of it's settings. As he describes the tree where the boys first meet, it's easy to picture it's bare branches framed against the night sky. Readers will feel the winter chill in the air as the boys "reveal" themselves to each other. It's rare for a writer to paint such vivid images with words, but Provenzano has done it.
The genesis of the book came from a most unexpected place. "It started with a series of dreams I had in early January 2011. I woke up and realized that there was a connection, and the scenes were quite evocative. I just started typing, even though it was four in the morning. Fortunately, I kept typing, and fortunately, it was a Saturday."
It's definitely not a children's book. The love/sex scenes between Reid and Everett are graphic, but they're never pornographic. The boys aren't "tricking," they're making love, and these sequences are filled with the special kind of excitement one can only feel with a soul mate.
About midway through the story, the seemingly idyllic love story of Reid and Everett takes a sharp, dramatic turn. An unexpected tragedy threatens to come between the boys, and the remainder of the book focuses on how they, as teens, will deal with what the universe has given them. "Along the way of writing Every Time, I just realized that it could happen. I didn't set out from the beginning to have it happen, but all of a sudden, I realized how many people I've known in my life who've used wheelchairs, and I became fascinated by the potential for conflict and compassion between the two main characters."
Every Time I Think of You has been nominated for a Lambda Literary Award, and Provenzano promised that a sequel is now in the works. The book is available in both print and Amazon Kindle editions.