Friday 24 August 2012

#OBSummer #Books - Ford 99 - Gastien Part 1: The Cost of the Dream

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Genre - Family Saga / Historical Fiction 
Rating - 18+ 
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The story of Gastien takes place in nineteenth century France. In the beginning we learn that Gastien grew up the oldest of eleven children on a large vegetable farm.  His father was horribly abusive to his wife and children; and even more so to Gastien. Gastien was to take over the farm when he came of age, but he was only interested in becoming an artist.  Color and shape moved him and he would sneak away as often as possible to paint and draw. This would usually result in a severe beating and verbal assault. In fact, on his sixteenth birthday his father beat him so hard with a wet leather strap that he would have scars across his back for life.

At eighteen he has a stand-off with his father and ends up leaving home the same afternoon.  He is determined to not only become a painter, but a great lover. He listens to his father often sexually abuse his mother and makes a vow that he will make sure that women always enjoy him. Because he is an eighteen-year-old boy, sex is one of the two main things on his mind. He can’t wait to prove to himself and women that the act is something both partners should enjoy.

When he reaches Paris, he only has enough money for a meager meal once a day for a few weeks or a room for a few nights. He opts to hide out in Notre Dame during the night, sleeping between benches in one of the Stations of the Cross.  Gastien suffers from the typical optimism of an innocent who has not yet faced the difficulties a peasant finds when trying to make their way in the city. He believes he will immediately find a job and soon be on his way to becoming a painter. Therefore, he spends what little money he has on art supplies.

By the time we get to page 99, he has met with no success in getting a job.  Slop water has been poured on him, chefs have ridiculed him, and by the end of the second day of door pounding he is left with no job and no money. To top it off, that morning someone doused him with the contents of a full chamber pot! He had simply been unaware that residents opened their windows and threw the night’s waste out the window without looking. He had to wash in the River Seine and clean his clothes.  While waiting for his clothes to dry, he drew with charcoal.

He has now met the first friend that he will have ever known, Michel (Mic). They met in a park and Mic recognized him as the peasant who had stared so longingly at him and a group of artists inside a restaurant while Mic showed off his latest work.  Gastien had envied the young men and longed to be part of them, but when Mic motioned him in he pretended not to notice and quickly walked away.  He was ashamed that he did not have the money to join them.

Now, however, they start to talk in the park and Mic finds out the Gastien wants to paint.  He has asked to see his drawings and was amazed that the obvious talent the young farm boy displayed.  Mic has volunteered to work with Gastien in the park after classes, and has also christened him with his first nickname – Gaz . They have, as young men do, joked about sex.  Both have bragged about how many women they have had (Gastien pretends not to be a virgin) and Mic generously allows him that charade. He then invites him to come with him for soup, but realizes Gaz has no money, so he offers to buy just this once. In fact, because Mic works at the restaurant he says Gaz can have his unlimited fill and Mic will eat the one paid bowl. 

As we get to page 99, Gastien has just finished his fourth bowl of soup. He has admitted that he is worried about money, so Mic suggests that he sell drawings until he finds a job.  He also informs Gaz that all positions have been taken in the area by the time art school starts, so it will be several months before there are openings.  However, he promises to teach him how to serve on Sundays, one of his days off, and a slow day where he works.  That way, when a part time opening comes up, Gastien will be able to be considered.  It is a very popular spot and Gastien is thrilled.

At this point in the story we have seen Gastien finally strong enough to walk away from the abusive situation at home, yet he has met with trial after trial in just two short days. Page 99 offers him hope and gives him a friend that will be his closest confidant for the rest of his life. This page is a pleasant contrast to the darkness that our Gastien has endured so far.  It also provides comedic relief in regard to the banter between two teenage boys who think they are men and naturally talk about sex. Mic finally catches Gaz in his lie and Gastien has to admit that he has no experience with women.  However, since Mic has, he is excited to possibly learn details from his new found friend.

Page 99 ultimately gives Gastien the most happiness that he has ever known so far.  He has found his first real friend, he will be taught how to paint in oil, has hope for employment, a possible means of making a little money in the meantime, and will learn much desired details about the facts of life. What more could an eighteen-year old male from the farm dream of?

The story of Gastien is dark and dramatic. There are adults themes that are quite disturbing, but you will find that you experience more emotions with this series than any you can recall reading.  At times you will laugh, sometimes you will cry, and there will be times that you want to shake Gastien senseless. Regardless of his major faults, you will find yourself loving him. He is a true bohemian who vows to stop at nothing to see his dreams come true.  

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