Review: A Love Like Blood by Victor Yates

Half Somali and Cuban, 17-year old Carsten Tynes, deals with the intricacies of race, Americanism, syncretism, and sexuality under the abusive hand of his father in A Love Like Blood. Carsten's camera is the thread that slowly unravels his relationship with his father and reveals the unseen world of men who move at night. When death pushes his boyfriend and father together into an abandoned camera store, he makes a dangerous move to save them.

This story starts off with Carsten’s scattered thoughts as he meets his neighbour, Brett, while moving into a new house with his father and two brothers. The flow was not what I am used to, and it was difficult at first to pick up the threads. But as the story moves, those disjointed thoughts start to bring the pieces of Carsten together. Being queer and living in a strictly religious household, with his abusive father who wants him to marry by eighteen, makes his secret all the more terrifying to reveal.

Once I understood the style, I really enjoyed this story. It is dark, and powerful. Carsten will do anything to earn his father’s approval and love, spending his days trying to figure out how to be the image his father wants for him, and failing because it isn’t who he is.

Photography is the only way Carsten and his father can bond, and through Carsten’s perspective of the world through his lens, the reader learns the textures, angles, and shades of Carsten’s life. From the sharp edges of violence, to the contradictory angles of Brett.

While the abuse is hard to read, it also gives the opportunity to learn how Carsten survives it. There is a fortitude that grounds Carsten in life. If he can live through his camera, the rest doesn’t matter. His father’s approval of his work is enough to get him through.

I have to admit, I power read this. I picked it up, and didn’t put it down until I was at 96% and my eyes refused to stay open. The beauty of Carsten, and his relationship with Brett helped to overshadow his father’s abuse towards him.

Sometimes father was capitalised. This was intriguing. Godly in his status, the man becomes something more in Carsten’s eyes. Father’s word is the law Carsten lives by, even when he fails. Anything from his mannerisms, to his skin care routine are stifled and hidden, to the best of his ability, so as not to be called a girl and beaten for it. His fear of coming out to his father is palpable. And I believed him when he confided in Brett that his father would kill him if he told him. The undertone of violence is a constant threat, but more than that, being disowned, and fatherless is what Carsten fears.

Brett’s presence in Carsten’s life provides an opportunity to explore his feelings more, out in the open, away from his father’s watchful eyes. He allows those thoughts he keeps hidden, to surface and give him strength. Brett is manly, with unapologetic effeminate traits, that immediately put Carsten’s father on edge. Against his father’s wishes, Carsten takes every opportunity to sneak out and spend time with Brett. Although sometimes it is hard to express to Brett the differences between Brett’s white upbringing and Carsten’s Somali upbringing, they manage to build a solid foundation that Carsten can escape to late at night when his father sleeps.

For a first novel, I am impressed. This piece of literary fiction is moving and powerful. It gives the reader a glimpse into life under the strict rule of an abusive father, and how a child’s loyalty is stretched beyond breaking point. All through this story, there is this constant feeling of how much Carsten loves his father, even when his father causes him harm. Carsten will never stop trying to earn his father’s approval and love. His loyalty runs bone deep, even when those bones are broken. As he awakens into a man, and has to make hard choices, that want is ever present. Behind the lens and in the darkroom he is able to capture a small taste of how it feels for his father to be proud of him, and he chases it with dogged determination.

Through this darkness, there are spots of light. Little tastes of rebellion in the images Carsten hides away from his father. The relationship he has with Brett. His brother’s sticking up for him and accepting him for who he is.

This story is hard, and it is not for everyone. Those who find it difficult to read books with triggers, and those who are not far enough in their recovery from their own abuse, this book is not for you yet. This is recommended for readers who enjoy literary fiction with queer characters, fighting hard for the right to exist in the world as they are, with or without their parents love.

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