REVIEW: Vintage (Steve Berman)

51GigfxoS1L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Encapsulate the book in one sentence?

Goth gay, meet dead gay.

Intriguing, tell me more.

The protagonist, a seventeen year-old gay goth who lives with his aunt after his parents disowned him, encounters the ghost of a boy from the 1950s killed on the road to town. His finds himself drawn to the ghost, for good or ill.

Personal Choice, Book-Pot, Re-read…?

Personal choice. Steve is a close friend and a colleague I work with a great deal, and I’m a big fan of his short fiction. Vintage had been on my amazon wishlist since before I’d even met Steve from when I dredged through AfterElton’s best LGBT books list, so there comes a point when it’s just embarassing that I haven’t read it.

What genre would you say it is?

Queer coming-of-age verging into horror.

Did you finish it? Did it work for you?

I started it at midnight, only intending to read a few pages. I went to bed at 4am. Does that answer the question?

Berman is particularly adept at rendering lost boys in the hinterlands of queer adolescence, and the protagonist of Vintage might well be his most iconic. I’m always happy when queer fiction puts forward characters besides yer average twink, and I can’t think of any other that takes on a goth lead character, and given that I spent my own teenage years hovering on the edge of that world, it’s especially endearing to read. If only I’d found the book then.

Key to Vintage is the draw of the supernatural: this is neither throwaway paranormal romance in which a ghostly love interest is no big deal, nor horror with a vengeful ghost, but something that covers the shades of gray in the middle, playing on both the allure and the danger of the ghostly Josh. The romantic/sexual relationships with Josh, and with Second Mike, a tentative love interest, are complex, fascinating and affecting, but the most entertaining relationship of the book is with his best friend Trace, who runs the gamut from bolshy to vulnerable, and feels very very real.

So yes: it really did work for me. I devoured the book in one go, completely seduced by the increasingly creepy atmosphere and falling a little bit more in love with the characters as I went.

What surprises did it hold – if any?

I hadn’t quite anticipated the darker, more adult territories the book headed into. But also a pleasant surprise was the richness and diversity of the background characters who have subtlety and life breathed into them to become more than just window-dressing, especially the lesbian couple.

What scene will stay with you? What character will stay with you?

There are two scenes in which the protagonist encounters the dead, and both are chilling. The standout of the two is one in which, conducting a ouija board for fun at a party, the ghost of a young girl who was raped and murdered is conjured that only the protagonist can see. I’m not one to normally be phased by horror, especially in print, but man that scene is creepy.

Give me a good quote:

“Bored that afternoon, I was glad when Trace suggested we attend a funeral.”

You can’t please everyone:

I like reading bad reviews of books I like. A few complaints from goodreads:
– “It’s too over-sexualised!” He’s a seventeen year-old gay; what do you think he thinks about?
– “There wasn’t enough sex!” He’s also a seventeen-year-old virgin; the scene in which nothing much happens is really sweet, and just perfect.
– “It’s not goth just ‘cos you reference Tim Burton.” All the teenage goths I knew really liked Tim Burton. You can freely mock them for it, but they still really liked Tim Burton.
– “It was so cliched! Saw the ending from 10,000 miles away.” There are way too many queer goth books in the world, it’s so tiresome.

Is it available today?

Direct from Lethe Press or the usual online venues.

Soundtrack of choice: 

It should really be something from my teen goth days, but I’m actually going for So Close by Olafur Arnalds.


(The review format is stolen and adapted from lifeonmagrs.)


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