Emmy and Peabody Award winner Richard Kramer has a proven track record exploring the exquisite pains of adolescence and adulthood: His screenwriting, direction, and production credits include “thirtysomething” and “My So-Called Life.” He tackles them confidently again in his fiction debut, These Things Happen, a smart, tender look at two pivotal days in the life of a 15-year-old boy whose best friend has come out.
Wesley Bowman is spending the school term with his father, Kenny, an accomplished workaholic and gay rights lawyer, in an attempt to get to know him better, but the parenting has largely fallen to Kenny’s partner (in love, not law), George. When Wesley’s best friend, Theo, comes out at a school assembly and sends him home with two inquiries for the “old gay guys”—When did you know you were gay? Do you think it’s a choice?—the questions send unexpected ripples into Kenny and George’s relationship and tax the boys’ friendship. When an assault shakes the boys’ world, the adults surrounding Wesley are forced to see themselves in new ways—some unwelcome, some long overdue.
The book suffers a bit from its multiple viewpoints—moments late in the story don’t have quite the emotional resonance that they could have if we stayed in only Wesley’s and George’s heads. That said, there are plenty of moving moments. The work elegantly balances heavy and light, and its humor is charming. Wesley, the child of affluent New Yorkers—including an editor mother who “can’t bear” for him to use the phrase “No worries”—is both winsome and annoying as he weaves his way through adult expectations and his own insecurities. Ironic, idealistic and deeply concerned with truth, Wesley wobbles endearingly between boy and man. Meanwhile, George’s excavation of his past, his boyhood self, as he tries to answer Theo’s questions is stirring.
Fans of Kramer’s work should enjoy the novel’s clever, quirky dialogue, the characters’ fervid inner monologues and the affectionate depictions of city life. A decidedly 21st-century family tale, These Things Happen is a poignant portrait of love in all its forms.