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The first chapter of Jameson Currier’s new novel, The Third Buddha (Chelsea Station Editions), begins with a Chelsea dinner party and ends with hot sex between two of the diners. The second chapter opens with a roadside explosion in Afghanistan that takes place three months before the opening festivities shown in the beginning of the book. Currier uses this back-and-forth structure to tell two interrelated and fascinating stories that are often extremely moving, but this seesaw method of advancing the plot of interconnected characters often unnecessarily complicate both narratives.
The New York half of the novel tells the story of Ted “Teddy” Bridges, who comes to New York after the death of his gay brother Phillip (“Pup”) on 9/11. Ted moves into Pup’s Chelsea apartment and pieces together the story of his brother’s life, his many gay friends, his outgoing personality, and his active sex life. Ted, on the other hand, is not yet out to his parents, does not feel completely comfortable in gay Chelsea, and struggles to figure out where he fits in.
The Afghanistan half of the novel revolves around two gay international journalists, Jim and Ari, who are both professional and sexual partners. After a roadside bomb destroys their vehicle, the two are separated. Currier makes a brave choice placing this gay story in Afghanistan, but he does a great job of creating a believable war environment and characters that are clearly motivated while also conflicted. The most exciting and involving parts of the novel are Jim’s and Ari’s hunt for each other under horrifying circumstances.
The New York sections are narrated in the first person by Ted, which leads to a disparity between the sections. Ted’s discomfort and uncertainty limit the point of view of the New York portion. Meanwhile, the Afghanistan sections are narrated in the third person and jump between two extremes as Jim and Ari deal with their own physical and mental problems after the explosion. Jim searches for Ari from a U.S. hospital and military base. Before he can start his search for Jim, Ari begins his recovery with an amazingly adoptive family that lives in a cave in the Taliban-controlled countryside.
In the Afghanistan sections, we meet the various friends that Jim and Ari make to assist them in their separate searches and recoveries. We also get flashbacks of how they met, their initial jobs together, their conflicts with each other, and how they continue to grow together as a couple. These romantic flashbacks relay background information about Jim and Ari, but seem unnecessary and confuse the story.
In addition to the flashbacks, the novel is regularly slowed by some unnecessary history and religion lessons that don’t contribute to the plot, as well as some extraneous philosophizing about the interconnectedness of all people and otherworldly life forces, all of which are more clearly shown in the novel’s events than in their discussion.
The two main plots also reveal three minor but linked characters who contribute to the overlapping stories.
One minor character is Chris, the sensitive but flakey muscle hunk who loved “Pup.” He floats into Ted’s life, hoping to use Ted as a substitute for his dead brother.
Another story revolves around Rico, a young Hispanic man who Ted meets at a 9/11 compensation hearing. Ted grows fond of Rico but their relationship remains platonic for a long time and Rico remains distant despite Ted’s devotion.
The third linked character is Stan, an American medical worker, who uses his young Afghan lover to drive himself and the injured journalist Jim to another base where Stan abandons the young Afghan man who clearly adores him. This story frames the action in Afghanistan during the war and afterward.
The title of the novel, The Third Buddha, refers to an archeological site being sought in Afghanistan, which Jim and Ari want to cover in a news story. While the Taliban has destroyed two giant statues of the Buddha, it remains unclear if another ancient statue is real or a myth to keep people searching. Throughout the novel, the Buddha is used as a symbol of the ongoing quest we often partake for something bigger than ourselves.
Parts of Ted’s story in Chelsea after 9/11 are very appealing. Jim’s and Ari’s individual searches for each other in Afghanistan are remarkable. Jameson Currier shows his creativity and writing skill in these extraordinary stories of interrelated characters, but his highly fractured and often overstuffed method can be frustrating at times.