Victor Lavalle at Bookforum:
As Zachary Lazar put it in his New York Times review: “It helps that James . . . is a virtuoso at depicting violence, particularly at the beginning of this book, where we witness scene after scene of astonishing sadism, as young men and boys are impelled by savagery toward savagery of their own.” Later he writes, “The novel’s great strength is the way it conveys the degradation of Kingston’s slums.” Lazar’s praise, the elements of the novel he highlighted, would be echoed again and again in each review I read, and I can’t say he’s wrong. James ismasterful with violence and sadism, and Kingston’s slums are vividly portrayed.
But after a while I wondered about a vital aspect of the novel that I rarely saw mentioned, let alone praised, in these reviews: the sex. More speciﬁcally, the gay sex. There’s a fair bit of it in the novel; two characters—Weeper and John-John K—are gangsters who have sex with men, and James writes about both their violence and their sexuality. But only one of these things was mentioned regularly by reviewers.