A review by Piet Bach
When Anel Viz sets fingers to keys, we can expect interesting things to happen, and his recently published novella Alma’s Will is certainly interesting. It has the hallmarks of his work in abundance: a specific locale that contributes its personality to the story, vividly three-dimensional characters, dialogue that always moves the action along while never feeling rushed or truncated, more than one twist in the plot that seems inevitable in hindsight but surprises when it appears, and a dénouement that is completely satisfying to the reader if not to the whole cast of the narrative.
When Alma Enslik is found dead in her rocking chair, the last thing her next-door neighbors expect is to be named in her will for more than a token of gratitude for the neighborly help they had given her over time. But to her family’s surprise, they are named to carry out perhaps the most important of her wishes – that a safe home be established for gay teenagers whose families had thrown them out. It is particularly shocking to her only surviving child, Livia, who moved halfway across the country when she married and hasn’t been home to Macon to visit for three years. Her reaction surprises her husband, and its vehemence and venom set the plot in motion.
Other writers might have put the spotlight on the legal manoeuvres. With the skill we have come to expect from Viz, however, the focus stays steady on the psychology of the characters. Along the way, we get spare but effective portraits of Southerners both generous and bigoted, noble hearts and hearts twisted with religious hatred, and spare but clear views of what so many discarded gay teens have to endure as they struggle to survive. One of the strongest points in any catalogue of Viz’s talents is his ability not only to delineate each character both concisely and well, but to make sure that every character mentioned in the narrative, however briefly, counts. In the end, although Alma’s instructions are fulfilled, we are left to wonder whether her daughter has learned anything about grace or her fellow beings. I was particularly impressed by his illustrations of the two sides to so-called Christians – the fire and brimstone variety who preach Christian love but live narrowly, and the wider faith of those who heed the message of love but leave the strictures and disapproval out. The hypocrisy of some characters and the generosity of others is displayed without heavy-handed comment or overemphasis, entirely of a piece with the deep insight Viz brings to bear in all his work.
Not surprisingly, Alma’s Will has been named a finalist for the Rainbow Award in the “gay contemporary general fiction” category. With its strong characters and plot, and its powerful message, it’s a book that we all need to read. Go here to purchase it in e-book form; or here to buy it in paperback. You will certainly not regret your purchase. Very highly recommended.
Alma’s Will, by Anel Viz
ISBN 978-1-61495-941-0: trade paperback // 296 pp.
ISBN 978-1-61495-935-9: e-book // 249 pp.