For many, many years, being naked terrified me. I wasn’t a boy who ran around shirtless; I can still recall the terror when forced to be “skins” in seventh grade gym, the already dreaded class where a passing grade required being fully exposed at least once a week, my completely inadequate private parts and wildly imperfect body bared not only to the other boys – all of whom from my perspective had superior genitals and muscles – but also to Mr. Trout, who sat with clipboard, each day, on a bench looking into the communal showers, making sure we performed the mandatory ablutions.
Nowadays such ultimatums would result in lawsuits and arrests. Rightly so. It is beyond cruel to command adolescents in varying stages of development to expose themselves to others for comparison; and make no mistake, comparisons were made. Who was developed where – male and female – was gossipy-common knowledge thanks to those masochistic phys ed rituals. Craig Z. was famous for his early sprouting of pubic hair and plump organ, while Blaine D. – though small of stature – grew a garden of pubes and low-hanging testicles that were the envy of all, except the legendary Bryan Y., whose enormous penis and strapping-lad body were gay-porn quality long before I knew what gay-porn quality was.
Those boys were happy to be nakeds. I yearned to belong to that stratum where one could commit such peeling and win approval, envy even. I wanted to be comfortable hanging out with it all hanging out with those guys about whom I fantasized. Well, it takes decades to learn that the Craig Zs – future alcoholic and felon; Blaine Ds – disappeared one night, never to be seen again, rumors of a drug-dealing mishap; and Bryan Ys – now rich and on wife number four; were just as unsure and panicked about exposure as the rest of us.
Everyone fears being naked, one way or another. And everyone has something they want to hide; a secret, a flaw, a scar, a truth not yet told, a lie not yet revealed. In Lisa Glatt’s novel, The Nakeds, we journey with barely post-high-school-age Martin who, morning after drunk, hits seven year-old Hannah and runs, leaving her with a crumpled leg requiring cast after cast and failed treatment after failed treatment and him with a gnawing secret-shame requiring self-medication with drugs, alcohol, sex, and a relationship killing emotional shut-down. Years pass as the two struggle with their parallel immobilities. Too, we watch their families, each member richly tortured with their own ambiguities and equivocations, on the peripheries of Hannah and Martin’s traumas. Hannah’s parents fall apart in the wake of their broken child while Martin’s parents cling together rather than drown in the vagaries of their far more damaged offspring. Friends and family fundamentally misunderstand Hannah and Martin, neither of whom seem able to get past their own issues enough to find real connection with others; the burdens Hannah and Martin carry take up too much space to allow others in.
All of Glatt’s characters are searching for connection, for a way to be in a world where uncertainty reigns, looking for places and ways in which to be, to control their realities. They grasp at everything from nudist clubs to eating disorders to bible-thumping to fingering sessions with the long lusted after hot boy in their quests to find purchase in a senseless world in which none feel completely at ease. In the novel, as in life, things and people are broken and look for ways in which to be repaired: some are put back together, some are not.
I found Glatt’s writing to be fast and easy to read, her switches in perspective well-handled and the close-third POV not as distancing as it can sometimes be when that thing happens where the narrative voice overtakes the character thoughts. I didn’t find it as funny as did some reviewers – or, rather, not as much a comic novel as the publisher’s marketing campaign would like me to have found it; it was more sad than funny. But, I’m okay with that. Life is sad. Often.
What I think was missing – for me, an older reader – was a little more hope, a little more perspective, that moment where we were given to believe that one of the characters had begun to understand – or, would one day understand – that the Craig Zs Blaine Ds Bryan Ys each had their own shattered limb, desperate sin they’d not confessed, daily struggle: that we are not alone in our alone-ness, that we are all naked together.
But that’s just me. (And, well, you too.)
I book-blog because I love to read. I love books. I worship writers. I am not remunerated, this was not an ARC or a free book. I decided to read this book and bought The Nakeds at my local independent bookseller, The Curious Iguana (click here).