On the eve of the anniversary of their younger brother’s death, two siblings endure an emotionally exhausting weekend fraught with danger, disappointment, surprises, and redemption in K.M. Soehnlein’s poignant third novel, Robin And Ruby.
The author’s award-winning debut novel, The World of Normal Boys, introduced readers to Robin MacKenzie, a young teen coming to terms with his sexuality during the 70s disco era, whose family unravels in the aftermath of a tragedy.
In this sequel set in 1985, the former teen is now twenty years old, spending the summer on break from college, while waiting tables in Philadelphia with his roommate and best friend, George.
Ruby, Robin’s younger sister, turned to religion after the death of their kid brother, Jackson. Now a goth-influenced atheist who dresses in black and listens to new wave music, Ruby is dating Calvin, an aspiring screenwriter and professed anti-capitalist with bisexual tendencies.
On the day leading up to their annual visit to Jackson’s grave, this brother and sister embark upon a series of unplanned, potentially life-altering events.
Robin is dumped by his decade-older boyfriend, Peter, and soon thereafter ends up in bed with George. Ruby reluctantly escorts Calvin to a house party on the Jersey shore where she bumps into Chris, a former acquaintance from her days of religious zealotry. Ruby takes off with Chris, and Robin joins forces with George to try to find her after he gets wind of her disappearing act from a drunken answering machine message.
In his previous works, Soehnlein has shown he has a knack for character development and an aptitude for dialogue.
Robin’s concern for Ruby and the race to find her is certainly engaging but secondary to his emotional journey of discovery with George, his lifelong friend-turned-lover. The superbly-written, affectionate banter between the two young men grows increasingly tense and their evolving relationship in the course of a single weekend makes for a compelling plotline.
Furthermore, Ruby’s concurrent storyline is especially interesting because her uncharacteristic behavior is completely unexpected to both the reader and herself. The fragile young girl, used to feeling out of place, shows remarkable strength when faced with a house full of polar opposites—spoiled, coke-snorting, promiscuous Ivy-leaguers—who belittle her endlessly without much success. Ruby is presented with yet another hurdle when she learns that Chris, her supposed savior, is hardly in any condition to guarantee her safety.
Generation X readers will revel in the novel’s endless pop culture references from the era defined by hair bands and the rise of Madonna.
Meanwhile, the looming threat of a then newly-discovered disease called AIDS is a hot-button issue and other frequent topics of discussion are race and skin color.
Despite a select few less-than-favorable references from the decade, Robin And Ruby is an inviting, enjoyable walk down memory lane.
ROBIN AND RUBY
by K. M. Soehnlein Kensington
Hardcover, $24.00, 276p