“The Bliss House” by Jim Bartley: Complex and Dark Love

Two young men bringing up a small child in the middle of nowhere. Everything could be fine, but strangers start to meddle.

For near a century the reclusive Bliss clan farmed the same land. Now it’s 1963 and everyone’s gone except teenage Cam, his older cousin Wes, and little Dorie. They buried Gran over a year ago. But Gramp is still with them, wrapped tight as a mummy in an old tarp in the cold room off the kitchen. Life’s better now without the old man’s rants and terrors.

There are problems with the land lease and the meddlesome, moralizing neighbours, and rumors are spreading in town that there’s something not quite right about Cam and Wes, but they’re taking care of it all as best they can. Then the local Children’s Aid drops by to say Dorie needs schooling and proper parents, and it’s clear they can’t hide their secrets any longer. They’re on the road, heading north, with a body in the trunk. Wes knows a place, a cabin deep in the woods …

No matter what they do, gruesome casualties seem to follow them. It could be funny if it wasn’t so nightmarish. And through it all, a tender secret love thrives, as they try to hold on to the family they’ve built together.

In “The Bliss House” by Jim Bartley, he has created a story that has a complex and dark love woven deep within the narrative. From the very beginning, the characters crawl under your skin as you feel their emotions and the terrible difficulties that lie before them. Cam and Wes make horrific choices but all in the name of keeping their family safe and together. And even at the end, I found myself empathizing with Cam in particular despite the darkness that follows him around. 

The novel is very much about dysfunctional love but how many families really are functional?  It is also about the struggle of those different to carve out a place in society and fight to be free to love who they will and have families. Even as dark as the story evolves, that love between Cam and Wes shines as does their love for Dorie. The characters shine in this complex and dark love story. 

If you like stories that have a complex end with dark events, or stories about chosen family, especially gay characters, this novel might be worth checking. The characters resonate and shine. The story is complex and dark but the love between the two will make you care about this small family even as they struggle with their darker impulses. 

Rating: 5 out of 5 bodies. 

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