The Life I Lead
by Keith Banner
262 Pages, 1999
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Reviewed by Jonathan Shipley
When you're writing a novel, how -- or perhaps even why -- do you make the main character a sympathetic homosexual pedophile? How do you write a story that the reader wants to finish, even if the main character is infatuated with a young boy named Nathan? How do you move the plot along among the main character's dreams of him and the boy together, alone, in a motel room? Keith Banner has done all of these things in his haunting first novel, The Life I Lead.
Meet Dave Brewer. He seems like your run-of-the-mill blue collar worker in a sleepy Midwestern town. He works for the gas company. He drives the bus for the Norris Road Baptist Church. He's married. He has a daughter. He likes golf. He helps his ailing father. He embodies the values and lifestyle of middle America... except for the fact that he sees a boy and falls in love.
As his interest in Nathan grows, his emotions devolve into complex tangents around love, passion, sexual and emotional gratification, and a past that he can never forget. Troy, his babysitter when Dave was young, was a child molester himself, taking advantage of Dave when he was merely six. Dave's life begins to unravel. He cannot deny his feelings for Nathan while, at the same time, trying to remain in his "normal life." He doesn't want to lose the things that make him sane and "normal"; things like his wife, his daughter and his father who is slowly dying.
What is love? What is innocence? What is it that makes us human? These issues are played out for the reader in Banner's compelling novel.
The story is told from many points of view. Troy speaks. Dave speaks. His father speaks. His wife speaks. The unfortunate point of this is that all the voices sound very similar. It would have been more effective if it was just Dave, or told in a third-person point of view. It does hold some merit however.
I step over to David as he sits at the table. I direct him back to the cot. I strip before this child. I don't say one word, except that one phrase that I say. 'This is for you.'
Nathan just sits next to me, and then this is when I have the realization that I can do whatever I want to this little kid. Anything I please. It scares me deep down knowing how much power I could have, scares me where you have the fear of rats and snakes and high places and drowning in deepest water.
Granted, the book is not for everyone. It is disturbing, to say the least. Which, you have to ask yourself, is more frightening: the man who knows he's a molester and continues to do it, or the man who self-deludes himself into thinking he's just a normal family man who wants to save a boy? It is a question to ponder as you read the final pages of Banner's novel.
Banner, a writer whose stories have appeared in The Kenyon Review and other literary magazines, is a social worker for the mentally handicapped. The Life I Lead is his first novel. It is a novel of obsessions, desires, and love. | September 1999
Jonathan Shipley is a graduate of Washington State University and the editor of the literary magazine Odin's Eye.