Review: Stealing Ganymede by J. Warren

Zeus is the lowest of the low: a hitman, and muscle for a monster who sells children into sexual slavery. It was only because he learned from the guy who used to do the same job, though, that he made it off the streets. It isn't until he is sent to transport yet another boy that he discovers something that cannot be true, and yet somehow, is: this boy is Zeus' child-self, the part he had to let die to stay alive through the horror, somehow made physically real. The discovery leaves him with a monumental choice to make: Does he leave things as they have always been and deliver the boy, letting that part of him die once and for all, or, in order to save himself, does he destroy the men he works for in order to let the boy go free?

This book is really difficult for me to rate. It sickened me. Physically sickened me, but it was also like a train wreck. I wanted to look away and I did have to put it down a couple of times, but I couldn't quit it. 

Let me start with the technical stuff. The writing is stylistically reminiscent of Guy Ritchie-numerous time jumps, unsavory characters that are morally bankrupt to varying degrees, loads of guns and violence-divided by Catcher in the Rye. I like Guy Ritchie's style, not so much Salinger's. The trouble with writing like this is (a) the language can drift into affected or clich├ęd territory and (b) you really have to stay on top of continuity and there are some silly continuity errors. The bluntness of the language feels authentic to Zeus but it's also stereotypical and repetitive. I did enjoy the opaque literature and movie references which turned into a game of 'name that movie/book'. Bonus points for Grosse Pointe Blank.

The content is where things got tetchy, definitely a double-edged sword for me. On the one hand, child abuse/neglect/slavery is vile and unpalatable, to put it mildly. Unfortunately, it happens a lot more often than most people want to think about. It's also something I have to hear about frequently in my day job, so I try to avoid it like the plague. Truth be told, I almost DNF'd this multiple times, but the other side of that edge is my day job also brings with it an almost insatiable curiosity about behavior and the human psyche and Zeus is a complex character.

Zeus is as deplorable as they come but he's also a victim. He's erected this disaffected, demigod facade of a callous hitman, but underneath he's still that little boy who was subjected to repeated atrocities. That boy who had to find a way to survive. In many ways I think he sees his former self in Gan and wants to provide the safe haven he was never able to sustain. I could go into a long psychological diatribe on the complexity of Zeus, but suffice to say he revolted and fascinated me which made it impossible for me to DNF no matter how depressing the subject matter. 

The journey to save Gan morphs into a catharsis for Zeus. He shows us how pieces of his soul have been chipped away consistently throughout his life and in so doing he purges some of the toxicity he's been carrying. He also posits some radical theories on human nature, societal norms, the difference between the sexes and how boys are expected to endure hardship, pain and even torture. I'm not sure I agree with all of them, but I can't say it didn't make me take stock. Still, I couldn't shake the feeling that Stealing Ganymede is treading dangerously close to NAMBLA waters which I take issue with, fundamentally. 

The ending felt anticlimactic, which I'm fairly certain was by design, given all the foreshadowing. The transformation Zeus undergoes is instantaneous after meeting Gan which doesn't jibe with the twenty-year-hitman-who's-dead-on-the-inside, plus the Dubois storyline felt unresolved. However, I can't ignore this writer's ability to construct a character and make me feel, but mostly I felt repulsed which is normal under the circumstances. So, I'm left with a morally reprehensible character that I'm sympathetic towards at times, a repugnant subject matter, an offensive NAMBLA undertone and story that's moderately entertaining, so I guess I'll go with 3 hearts.

If you're feeling adventurous or morbidly curious, give it a whirl. 

A review copy was provided in exchange for an honest review.

Read more on Goodreads.

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