Xylophone by KZ Snow opens with 26 year-old Dare, who is starting a new part-time job as a clarinet player in a polka band known as Bouncing Bob’s Polka Doodles. He and his fellow Doodles, good-natured guys in their fifties and sixties, play a dance hall where Dare notices 24 year-old Jonah, who has taken his beloved grandmother dancing.
The two young men experience an electric moment of mutual attraction. But when they get a chance to talk, Dare receives an unpleasant surprise. Jonah remembers seeing Dare briefly years ago in a therapist’s office at a support group for victims of sexual abuse.
This revelation knocks Dare off-balance. Though he has a loving family, he has never come to terms with the exploitation he suffered during adolescence by a manipulative pedophile. This experience motivated him to try to reclaim and rework his sexual identity by performing in his main job as an exotic dancer in a sleazy club.
Jonah, who is more innocent (and more damaged) than Dare is, suggests that they continue to meet and seek healing by sharing their stories. Dare isn’t so optimistic that this will work, but is too smitten by Jonah to refuse. They could have friendship and much more if they can tread carefully through the emotional minefield of their experiences.
My summary makes this beautiful love story sound heavy, but it isn’t. While presenting the horror of sexual abuse in scenes of subtle anguish, the book manages to do justice to such a serious theme while balancing it with an overall tone of hope, humor, and love. Add to this the wonderful chemistry between our two resilient heroes and much humor, especially centered on Dare’s cranky but supportive fellow Doodles.
The book itself is narrated through the single third-person viewpoint of Dare, except when Dare and Jonah share their stories with each other. Then it switches to clearly marked (name and date) sections that alternate our heroes’ first-person viewpoints. Experiencing the scenes rather than receiving them through monologs puts the reader right there. The scenes have a feeling of darkness and corruption, as well as some profound insights into how sexual predators manipulate children. But the scenes are not gratuitous, nor are they likely to trigger anybody’s issues.
The beautiful writing – clear, minimalist, and yet lyrical – makes me want to quote almost every sentence. (The description of Bob’s accordion is worth the price of the book alone.) The author’s sense of humor and love of words is exhilarating. You can’t go wrong with Xylophone. It’s right up there with KZ Snow’s best books such as Mongrel,The Zero Knot, and Electric Melty Tingles. I highly recommend it.