These Things Happen by Richard Kramer
A while ago, I was approached by a publicist from the USA who was trying to get some exposure for her client’s book in the UK/Europe – it’s a debut novel, but by an author with an awesome pedigree in the TV world. The book is These things happen by Richard Kramer, the award-winning producer and writer on series Thirtysomething, My So-called Life and Tales of the City. Being a confirmed fan of two out of those three (I’ve not seen the middle one), I jumped at reading the novel.
Thirtysomething was an ensemble piece following several sets of young parents in Philadelphia during the late 1980s – like The Big Chill for TV – it ran for 88 episodes; (I rather liked Eliot (Timothy Busfield, 2nd left) in the same way that my favourite ER character was Dr Greene.) Tales of the City was adapted by Kramer from Armistead Maupin’s novels – featuring another ensemble cast of very varied characters in 1970s San Francisco, it was too risqué for HBO in the 1980s who backed out and the series was eventually made by Working Title in the UK.
So would Kramer’s novel be up to the quality of these shows? Compare and contrast:
These Things Happen is definitely an ensemble piece – but the ensemble is smaller – one extended family and friends. The chapters are told from the different characters’ points of view.
It has the same mix of domestic drama as Thirtysomething and most of the novel occurs in conversation between the characters. As in the TV series, not a lot happens for much of the time, although there are two big linked events which are the fuel for the plot.
It is slightly cosy and non-threatening, yet not saccharine, although it does tug at one’s heart-strings, all leavened by a good sense of humour – so you could say it’s a natural successor to his previous work – let me introduce the story to you:
Wesley is a New York high-school student. He’s best mates with Theo who, with Wesley’s help, has just won the election to be year president. It all starts with Theo’s acceptance speech:
I helped him write parts of it, the future pledges materials, in which he promised universal health care, sustainable snacks in vending machines, and an end to the settlements (our school likes us to pretend that we’re real people). Then came the part I didn’t help with. Theo put down his notes. He drank some water. Then he said, ‘I thank you for this mandate. I shall try to lead wisely but not annoyingly. And now, in the spirit of full disclosure and governmental transparency, I would like to share with you that not only am I your new president but I am also, to be quite frank, a gay guy.’
This goes down with mixed reactions. Later on their way home, Theo wants Wesley to ask his father for advice. ‘What are old gay guys like?’ he asks. What he really wants to check is how they knew they were gay so he can be sure of himself, for Wesley’s father Kenny is gay, although he wasn’t always.
Kenny lives with George, an ex-actor, now a restaurateur in a small apartment above the restaurant. Wesley used to live with his mum Lola and her second husband Ben, but Lola thought he should get to know his father better, so lately he splits his time between the two households.
Kenny is a big-time lawyer who fights for gay rights – even when he’s at home, he’s always in demand. Much of the drama in this novel will come from Wesley trying to find any opportunity, not just the right one, to ask Theo’s questions.
Meanwhile George isn’t clear about his relationship with Wesley – there isn’t an easy way to describe what is expected of how he should get on with his partner’s straight son. George seems naturally drawn to look after Wesley, but is holding off. Having Wesley in their apartment is cramping their style somewhat, but Kenny barely notices. When Wesley asks George Theo’s questions, poor George doesn’t know what to say.
And so it goes on between Wesley, his parents and their new partners, and Theo. Wesley and George are the main narrators, and gradually over the course of the novel, they will work out what their relationship should be – this different kind of coming of age was rather touching. I had a lot of time for George, he is full of empathy; he’s witty, fun and wise. As an ex-actor he gets some great theatrical moments, but Theo gets the best joke – he asks Wesley to find out about the Merman! – the youth of today, eh? Wesley was a great young man too, steadfast in his platonic love for Theo, and Theo’s brave speech will later test their bond.
While not shying away from the fact that all relationships and families require hard work to make them thrive, and that men can love each other in many different ways, this lovely and ultimately, optimistic novel was a pleasure to read. I enjoyed it very much. (9/10)
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Source: Publisher – thank you. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
These Things Happenby Richard Kramer. Pub by Unbridled Books, April 2014, paperback, 256 pages.
Tales of the City/More Tales of the City Box Set [DVD]
Thirtysomething – The Complete Season One [DVD]