GENRE: Gay mainstream, suspense, crime, thriller, erotic
He never thought he’d become one of the agoraphobic sludges of New York City—trapped with one view of a courtyard and a head full of wrenching memories. Dumped, disconnected, and depressed, he surrenders to spying on the neighbors as his only entertainment.
Until one day, without warning, the lascivious and suspicious behavior of the closeted lawyer in the huge apartment across the courtyard leads him to a spine-tingling conclusion… his neighbor is a murderer.
Perhaps collaborating with the beautiful and fierce Detective Marzoli to catch the killer can finally breathe life back into a man suffocated by the stranglehold of a tragic past. Unless the killer across the way decides to make him… The Next.
The Next by Rafe Haze is a stunning tour de force: Rear Window without the filters, hyped on suspense and edge-of-your seat observations of the human condition—vignettes of despair and hopelessness and entitlement and desperation. Scenes of lives half-lived, registered by a man crippled by a disconnect between his mind and his body that walls him off from the outside world. Not all at once, but incrementally, until his existence is defined within six hundred and fifty square feet of space that barely registers.
He is the walking wounding, comatose to nearly everything with a past or future, yet oddly fixated by a line-of-sight lifeline to lives and events and characters acting out on a stage that’s his only tether to a world he seems to have forgotten.
Certainly it’s a world that’s forgotten him, or is about to. His younger brother Paul is dead, the how and why unclear, his reaction one of numbness and confusion. That much is normal, when lives go missing that way, but nothing about his relationship with his brother comes even close to normal.
Johanna the girlfriend leaves and returns and leaves again, exercising her passive-aggressive nature with ultimatums and quid pro quos. The upstairs neighbor irritates enough for judgmental reactions that do little to establish a relationship until chance and voyeurism net a connection and yet another and another.
The lifelines web and transform. Nathan the neighbor goes missing. Sergeant Marzoli investigates, but it’s off-the-clock and an unwelcome intrusion. At least until perceived man flirts awaken a seed of interest.
The replacement neighbor Ruben is a musician, reminding him of a failed career and lyrics that once had meaning and paid the bills. He accommodates Ruben, and it’s a step. Small, insignificant, but metrics for the seriously dysfunctional often require a mindset tuned to frequencies unnatural for most of us. But not for Marzoli.
When Ruben also goes missing, he and the Sergeant play cat and mouse, with each other, with what they know or suspect or observe, and the slow unravelling of a man’s mind takes him down a path he’s already trod and can’t recall.
The mind can be strange and wondrous, or a thing of ugliness and terror, slip-sliding into memories, both real and false, without rhyme, reason or any semblance of control. Marzoli asks, often, “Where did you just go?” and the answer takes its time, like a photograph developing in a chemical soup of self-awareness muddled by horrific scenes in one-act plays of terror and self-actualization.
The man in the room of six hundred and fifty square feet is the blank canvass upon which history and opportunity and the persistence of a damaged soul will write a new beginning, but only after the horror of each revelation re-enacts the drama of dissolution and cultivation and survival.
The Next is a character study of perception and failure and final acceptance. It is ugly and voyeuristic and brutal and sensual and intensely personal. I don’t believe I ever inhabited a character’s mind and body in quite the same way. The portraits he paints of the souls around him were painful and brilliant and insightful and almost too honest to bear.
The Next may be gay mainstream suspense, but it is literary in scope and feel, and deserves a spot on your bookshelf if you are willing to walk this torturous path of re-awakening and re-connecting. It is, in a word, extraordinary.
I don’t have enough stars in my galaxy for The Next, but suffice it to say, I was up all night, my heart in my throat for more than one reason. The writing is intelligent. The language raw and authentic. The pain is real, the angst honest. The ending will leave your heart racing.
If you are looking for your next great read, here it is: The Next.