Lambda Book Report – June-July 2005
By Robert T. Hoff
“Song of Freedom”
It is in the hottest cauldron the strongest steel is forged. In Whose Eye Is on Which Sparrow?, the protagonist, Dr. Brendan Garrison, faces his greatest crucible so far: a mind- and heart-filling muse in the personage of a stunning, musically talented black man, Jonathan Miles. What Brendan and Jonathan do with their passion takes the reader through the intricacies of coping with a cauldron full of the unexpected and unpredicted. In facing this type of heated miasma, great things often can be forged: enduring love, prioritized duty, championship of a deserving cause, and, in this book, integrity.
Dr. Garrison has his life in order. He has an established medical practice, a devoted wife and a social structure, but he sees these as constructs of shallow import. When choices of higher effect are thrust upon him, he must choose between his sedentary daily life or a rich new plane of existence that might give him the soul solace he seeks. Like Blanche Fleur, the anima that motivated King Arthur’s knight Parsifal to strive to achieve greater goals and import, Dr. Garrison’s love object, beautiful in heart and appearance, comes unbidden as a harbinger of choice. Dr. Garrison must decide whether to embrace the heat that alters his very nature, or run.
The categories of hurdles are offered up with clarity and decisiveness. First and foremost is the seeming insolubility of racism. Can there ever be common ground for interracial love between two men? As much as two people can acknowledge a binding commitment to intertwine destinies, where is the path to follow? Is there a balm for the anger and fear of a black man’s reaction to physical exploitation and a white man’s anger and fear of economic exploitation? Taylor does not give a direct answer, but to the reader, this should be clear: The answer lies within. Do we want to live in anger and fear, or live in light and love?
There are also the usual issues in novels with gay themes. How does a conventionally straight man deal with uncontrollable same-sex feelings never before addressed? How does his wife cope with an adulterous new paradigm? Also examined is the uncomfortable realization that ignorance and resultant racism in white communities abounds. In one scene, Jonathan must face the animosity of small-minded protectors of the status quo in the body of a white sheriff who brings the ethereal crashing down to slimy prejudice and ugly discrimination. Brendan in turn must delve through his own reactions to this event. Also, through Brendan’s volunteer work at a clinic where Jonathan works, the author ably examines how society treats its less fortunate.
Less controversial, Taylor sets forth one of the best analyses of rapprochement between function and beauty in modern literature. As Jonathan compares his remarkable singing talents, like all things of unfathomable beauty, to flowers, he says, “What do they do, really, that people need? Not a thing. Except make this a world I want to live in. Music is the same for me. It doesn’t do anything. Except make my heart – and my life – overflow with beauty. Not a bad reward, I’d say.”
After Jonathan moves cross-country to San Francisco for a new job with an opera company, Brendan must resolve his feelings for his newfound passion. Taylor leaves the ending open; he has placed all considerations for that extremely difficult contemplation. Hopefully, Dr. Garrison will make the right decision and aim for the higher ground where his heart already is at home.
Whose Eye Is on Which Sparrow? is an engagingly wonderful novel that brings tears, anger and joy to the reader. It is well worth the immersion into this Sparrow’s world.