How does it feel to be alienated? Knowing that the world you have built with so much love and have been a part of for the longest time comes crashing down. It is sad when it happens however I guess it also makes you realize and embrace instances and experiences as they come and that’s what Michael Lowenthal’s book, “Avoidance” sets out to do.
Avoidance is the story of Jeremy Stull, a Harvard Graduate Student who has lived with the Amish and is researching the lives of those who have been outcaste by the community. He takes particular interest in Beulah who was banished from her community.
On the other hand he is the assistant director of a Summer Camp called Ironwood (loved the play of words) for troubled boys. The juxtapositioning of these two insular groups is what the story is about, however it is also about Jeremy coming to terms with his sexual preference for men when a 14-year old Max Conner, enters the camp with his own set of family problems.
This book is not your typical coming of age story. It is more than that. It is about how complications can arise when certain boundaries are crossed – for instance the camp director abusing Max and Jeremy also at the same time wanting to have intimate relations with him (however does not), and how devastating are its consequences. I could so relate to the book not because I am gay but also because I know what it feels like to be avoided for who you are and what you are made of.
In my country being gay is still considered a huge taboo, people have not grown to accept or take it as some people’s way of live and yet at the same time, one reads of sexual abuse cases where a supposedly straight man abuses a younger man or a gay man.
Avoidance reads like prose breaking into poetry. It makes you asks questions: Is it ok for a relatively older man to lust or feel something for a young boy? From the viewpoint of a community that prides in its values and belief system, is it ok to explore a world which is not limited like theirs and thus risk having to lose everything that you have grown up with?
The book starts on a positive and cheery note, only to end in bleakness and despair. It is almost like falling and yet the fall is not free. A must read! I highly recommend it.