(Reviewed by Josh Aterovis DEC 12, 2005)
Jack Rourke and his twin brother Michael are given few advantages in life. They’re poor, their father is abusive, and their mother is a disinterested alcoholic. Jack is, however, gifted with a sharp mind and a talent for acting. He uses those gifts to work his way onto the stage of a local theater, taken under the wing by the kindly Lizbet Porter. When the boy’s mother abandons them, their father beats Michael to death. Jack snaps and stabs his father repeatedly, then seeks help from Lizbet, who swiftly whisks him away to the safety of her cousin, the wealthy Xavier St. Denys. That night, Jack is reborn as Christopher "Kit" St. Denys.
Nick Stuart is the only son of a self-taught, highly-religious country physician. From his earliest memories, he's been trained to follow in his father's footsteps, but he and his mother have bigger plans in mind. He wants to go off to university and become a real doctor. Despite his father's protests, Nick goes off to London to university and eventually starts his own practice, a clinic for the city's poor.
In London, Nick happens to catch a performance by the renowned actor Kit St. Denys, and he immediately feels a strong attraction to the charismatic man. Before the night is through, the two men have started an affair. Both are haunted by their pasts, however -- Nick by his strict religious upbringing and Kit by the specter of his childhood abuse. Kit's wild lifestyle quickly adds fuel to the flame.
In an effort to escape Kit's influence, Nick flees to America where he takes over a successful practice, marries a woman, and starts a family. Kit, unable and unwilling to let him go that easily, eventually chases after him. Will the two ever be able to overcome their pasts and find happiness together?
Set in Victorian England and America, The Phoenix is a wonderfully entertaining novel by first-time author Ruth Sims. Sims' language is elegant and economical. There's not a wasted word to be found, yet she creates beautifully vivid imagery. As you read Ruth Sims' book, you fully dwell in her world.
Her characters are so real you can hear them breathing, and not just the main characters of Kit and Nick. Even her supporting characters are richly drawn and entirely human. Perhaps because she is a female author, she also avoids the trap into which too many gay books seem to fall prey: underwritten female characters. Every voice in the story speaks with authenticity.
The story itself spans many years and two continents, but she accomplishes this daunting task with aplomb. Sims even managed to catch me by surprise with an unexpected twist or two. My only complaint is that the book ended. I eagerly look forward to more from Ruth Sims, a self-described cookie-baking Midwestern grandma.
- Amazon readers rating: from 21 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from The Phoenix at author's website
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- The Phoenix (September 2004)
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- Official website for Ruth Sims
- Page and Author interview (by Josh Aterovis) with Ruth Sims
- Forbidden Fruit interview with Ruth Sims
- The Independent Gay Writer review of The Phoenix
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About the Author:
Ruth Sims grew up in East Central Illinois, in the middle of the wheat and corn country. She was brought up in a Fundamentalist Christian church and spent half her life working in it, but now no longer professes a religion. She is very traditional in every other way. Her formal education ended in 12th grade, but she enjoys doing research and has a wide range of interests.
She still lives in East Central Illinois.