by Blair Mastbaum
Alyson Books, 2004
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Jul 17th 2007
Clay's Way is set in Hawaii, not the world of tourists, but among the islanders. Sam is 15, gay, and in love with punk skateboarder Clay, who is a couple of years older. Sam has a terrible relationship with his middle-class parents, and he has no siblings. He smokes pot and is ready to take other drugs. Sam pursues Clay, and Clay seems to like him, but after they have hooked up, Clay reveals that he has a girlfriend. Sam is intensely jealous, and pursues Clay. Clay is torn, because he does not want his relationship to Sam revealed. After an intense night of storm, the Clay and Sam alternate between fighting and loving each other. There is plenty of drama, and the book ends with Sam in despair.
If Sam were not gay, he would be a completely unsympathetic character. He is utterly self-centered, and he is destructive and angry. Clay is also manipulative and uncommunicative, cloaking himself in the language of surfer masculinity. Both these young men are annoying and unpleasant. Author Blair Mastbaum does little to give us insight into what makes them so unappealing; they don't seem to experience much overt homophobia, although they can't tell their parents or most of their friends about their sexuality. So it's basically a mystery as to what is going on, although the prodigious amounts of weed that they all smoke can't help that much. What is clear is that both Sam and Clay are isolated and miserable.
It's not clear what readership Mastbaum is aiming at. The book has some explicitly sexual scenes and is full of cursing, so parents may be reluctant to let younger teens read the book. One might group the novel with other gay young adult fiction such as Chris Cutcher's The Sledding Hill, Brent Hartinger's The Order of the Poison Oak, or Hartinger's Geography Club, but Clay's Way lacks a positive message. Its nihilism and roughness make it unusual, and distinctively different from those books. Counselors might hesitate before recommending Mastbaum's book to young gay males. Yet adults may find the drug-ridden, sexually promiscuous youth culture alienating and tiresome, and given the lack of depth of characterization, the novel is hard to get through. It is full of dialog, which makes it a quicker read, but readers may still struggle to finish the novel.
© 2007 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.
Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Reviews. His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.