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Cold - Brandon Shire
3.5 stars

What we have here are two men left in the cold. Both of them incarcerated for crimes committed through weakness, negligence, or anger… two very different men… can they find warmth in each other, can they find their way to home?

The story starts with Anderson Passero’s transfer into what seems to be a lower-security, open facility (the cells have no doors, there is a shared dormitory). He is counting down the months to the end of his eight-year sentence for drug running in the nightclub he co-owned. He comes from wealth and privilege and has so far, been adrift, unsure, and ultimately, gullible. He is pretty and charismatic, and wants to prove himself; but he loses his way and attracts trouble. Estranged from his homophobic father, Anderson lives his life out and proud. Anything to dig at the old man. Now, all he wants is to stay low, to get out, to go home. Wherever that is...

Lem has served eighteen years for having murdered his brother. He is a “lifer,” a huge, mountain of a man, instilling fear in all around him including the prison guards. Never understood or accepted -- at the age of eight he was as big and strong as a teen-ager -- he cuts himself off to feeling, walls himself away, only wanting to tend his beloved plants in the prison greenhouse.

But there is a hidden side to this silent giant. There is a mystery begging to be uncovered. Lem could fight for parole (his prison counselor wants to help), if he would just explain the circumstances of the murder, why he killed his brother. But Len remains silent, he doesn’t want redemption. He’s been shut away so long that this has become his world, these prison walls. Life inside is confined to what he can handle, as long as everyone will just leave him alone. Besides, there’s no one on the outside waiting for him...

Who are these two disparate men, convicted felons, who, on the surface, don’t seem to have much to redeem them? Why should we care about them? I am drawn to Lem. He’s such a puzzle, he hides so much away… a sharp intelligence, a love for nature -- he was a forester in a previous life, he’s a country boy at heart. And despite the decades of denial, within those concrete walls, he yearns for something softer. Still waters run deep. He sees the fear and vulnerability in Anderson and that brings out the gentleness, feeds the craving. He is the ‘war-daddy’ with a heart; and for Anderson, he is the stability, the protector ever longed for. I want to root for these men; they are so opposite in many ways, and yet they somehow forge a deep connection in the last days of Anderson’s sentence. I really want to know if there is a future for them.

So while we see the dynamic working between Lem and Anderson and the magnetic, carnal attraction, we don’t get much story before their incarceration. We don’t really get to see where they came from, we must rely mostly on what we get in the here and now. The writing colors them with care and yet, is more spare, the prose stripped down, quite different from Shire’s previous work in “Afflicted.” Still, there are glimmers of loveliness…

“...when I looked out at a forest from the top of a ridge, I saw the cycle and beauty of life… something I used to believe in… it’s a cycle I’m not a part of anymore,” Lem finally replied. “It’s all around us outside of this place, but not in here with us… “What about us, right here and now?” Anderson asked... Len cupped the side of his head… a sincere sadness in his eyes “A false spring,”

Cold is an intriguing look at love against all odds and Shire asks us to take a close look at two difficult characters, to empathize. What is frustrating is that there are factors in the story-telling that never get addressed, that pull me away from my sympathies. At one point in the story, Lem commits an act of unspeakable violence, and it is witnessed by Anderson. It seemed to me that Lem’s act wasn’t the only solution he could have chosen and it isn’t really resolved. It makes me wonder how Anderson can go anywhere near him. And yet he does, again and again. After eight years in the slammer, Anderson still seems rather naive and I’m not convinced that he has learned everything he needs to grow. And, there is still that mystery of Lem’s fratricide -- why did he do it? -- it keeps nagging at me, I say to myself that I must learn this one thing, here, if nothing else. I must learn why Lem was driven to such violence. It is chilling that almost two decades later, he can so coldly give himself over to it again...

For the rest of the review please visit: The Blog of Sid Love