(Current fiction & past quality fiction)
Beginning Albuquerque writers could learn a lot about “showing” a story as opposed to “telling” the story by reading “Regret.” You’d have to buy it from an Internet service like Amazon (not in local stores) because, within walking distance (through the woods) of Saint Francis University, from the outskirts of Loretto, Pennsylvania, down the winding lane known as Thomas Road, a quiet publishing enterprise by the name of Star Publish produces some rather attractive books and has since 2004. Out of this idyllic location in the Alleghenies sprang “Regret” (Star Publish) by Brad Windhauser in 2007. Like many such novels from small publishers, “Regret” didn’t set the world on fire. Yet today “Regret” resonates among a small but growing circle of intelligent readers as a model for telling a story because the characters deliver most of everything that happens – the way a novel should ideally unfold.
Windhauser has invested his time for the past decade instructing student writers at Temple University in Philadelphia, roughly 250 miles or a 4-hour drive east from Star Publish’s small wooded location. Examiner met Windhauser briefly at the North American Review’s 200th anniversary literary conference this past June. He spoke as a panel member on “Judging Your Content: The Benefits of Subjectivity.” Examiner couldn’t help but think at the time that he’d judged his own content in “Regrets” rather narrowly; that “Regret” is a much stronger novel than the subject might appear to limit its scope. In explaining his determination to publish, he’s written, “I thought it could really be something, a story people needed to read, something to get them talking about the themes I explored.”
The nuclear power of “Regret,” (its very strength) lies not in the themes explored, as beastly and noble as they may be, but in the way Windhauser creates characters that show the story. Examiner is not alone in that observation. Bob Lind, reviewer for Echo Magazine in Phoenix, and generator of more than 845 reviews for Amazon, reviewed “Regret” this way:
“When bodies of young gay men are being found all over Philadelphia, the case is assigned to openly-gay police detective John Thompson. The trail soon links the investigation to members of a church-sanctioned group that decides that God needs a little help showing homosexuals how they can change into good (i.e., heterosexual) Christians, with a plan to euthanize homosexuals lured by group members, to allow post-mortem research to be carried out to determine how brains can be altered to ‘cure’ deviant sexuality. To set their plan in action, they contact a medical researcher who has long been interested in preliminary research on brain differences in gay men, and use his hunger for funding and professional recognition to get him to cooperate with the program, without asking too many questions as to where the ‘subjects’ come from.
“These three story arcs begin separately in Windhauser’s first major novel, ‘Regret’ (Star Publish), but are soon intertwined with realistic and chilling subsequent discoveries, including the fact that the researcher has a gay son, the religious group leader’s delusions about contacting his dead son, and the detective’s life partner, who feels neglected by John’s long work hours, so he becomes a semi-regular at the same gay clubs where the group seeks out its victims. The book is well-written (only minor negative being some inconsistency with indenting paragraphs throughout the book), pacing the character-driven story perfectly, with a minimum of confusion or flashbacks, and — due to the reality of how some religious-right zealots see gays as a challenge — one of the more outright terrifying books I have ever read. Give it a try . . . I give it a full five stars out of five.”
Lind says his specialty is reviewing gay books. That Lind too recognizes the novel “Regret” as “well written” and the perfect pacing of the character-driven story, Examiner feels confident in urging the author to continue writing for a broader readership. The ability to tell a novel-length story through the created characters should be nurtured, embraced and explored beyond all limits. Examiner recommends “Regret” for its quality story telling. As a character notes at the end of the first chapter, he “had to appreciate diving into the whole thing . . . dedication was so hard to come by these days.”