Dodging and Burning

Written by John Copenhaver
Review by Kristen McQuinn

Copenhaver’s debut novel gives readers a gorgeous, critical look at the LGBTQ community in post-WWII society, revolving around a murder. In Royal Oak, Virginia, three friends—Jay Greenwood, Bunny Prescott, and Ceola Bliss—spend the summer of 1945 trying to solve the apparent murder of a young woman who Jay photographed. As they investigate, it becomes clear that there is layer upon layer of deceit involving Jay, the woman in the photo, and Ceola’s brother, who had gone missing in action in the Pacific theater two years earlier. As events unfold, Jay’s wartime traumas surface, Ceola struggles to understand the beloved brother she thought she knew, and Bunny sets into motion a chain of reactions that will have ramifications for them all for decades.

Dodging and Burning has some absolutely lovely writing, filled with deep imagery and complex, living characters. The society is richly depicted, from the salt-of-the-earth working poor, to the upper middle-class people of the town, to the gay and lesbian people in the DC underground. The way the LGBTQ community is portrayed in the novel mirrors social mores of the time, which makes for some really intense and upsetting scenes. There is a lot of excellent, much-needed social commentary woven throughout. One character speaks for the LGBTQ community when he says, “If you’re afraid for long enough, you grow numb to it.” Another character, later on, sums up much of mainstream society when he says, “You’ve been blind from the beginning. When you look at Cee or me or anyone, all you see is what you want.” The final few pages are an absolute gut punch, one which is vital. This is a book that must be read and discussed with as many people as possible. Very highly recommended.