While selling books with D. H. Jonathan last October at Oaklake Trails Naturist Park, I met a man who is also a writer of naturist fiction. We exchanged copies of our novels, and it has been my pleasure to read his: Chain Breakers by R. B. Mears. The novel came out in January of this year and, at this writing, has 35 mostly positive reviews on its Amazon page.
The first thing to say about this book is that it is very much a Christian novel. Jesus dying on the cross is referenced as early as page 7, and there is much praying, churchgoing, and baptizing throughout the plot. The book is indeed about nudism, but it is also very much about Christianity: for many people that’s wonderful and for many others… not so much. In a sense, the novel is also very much about pornography – not a pornographic novel at all, but rather a novel about teens using social nudism to break free from pornography (hence the title).
My aim here is to address exclusively, to the extent possible, the book’s naturist content. Mears’ depictions of skinny-dipping families in and around a typical US small town are wholesome and refreshing. The cathartic effect that these natural baths have on the characters is eminently believable. The protagonist, 14-year-old Matt, is able to channel his experience with skinny-dipping into action. In the opening scene, he does not hesitate to give the clothes off his back to cover a young man whose own clothes get ruined in an accident. From there, Matt, his brother, and a growing group of friends become leaders in displaying nonchalant nudity while linking it to recovery from addiction to pornography. These activists call themselves the Chain Breakers and refer interested parties to mychainsaregone.org, a website devoted to a Biblical understanding of naturism as a means of disarming unrealistic imagery and expectations about sex.
It is often the adult characters–the parents–who need more convincing than their adolescent children, and Mears portrays several intergenerational relationships convincingly. Most of the main characters are young men, but there are also young women, toddlers, senior citizens, and characters of more than one ethnic group. The overall number of characters becomes a bit confusing; I sympathize, because I feel that I hit the same obstacle in Co-ed Naked Philosophy. In both novels, the desire to show social nudism spread and take on new adepts presents the challenge of portraying many characters, which means that they are not all as memorable, or developed as deeply, as the handful of main characters. The one suspiciously uniform trait about all the characters in Mears’ novel is their Christian faith. Even characters who are not involved in the church present no difference of religion or attitude toward faith – more diversity on that front could have been interesting.
An aspect of this novel that I greatly appreciate is the confidence that the teen characters display with progressively greater force and articulation. Responding to a suspicious teen who thinks the whole point of getting naked is for the Chain Breakers to steal his clothes, Matt clarifies that it’s not about people wanting him to be naked:
“No,” Matt said. “We want you to have the strength to be naked — to stand without your clothes. Forcing you to be naked wouldn’t give you that strength.”Mears, R. B. Chain Breakers. pp. 264-65 (paperback edition).
Through Matt’s voice, Mears effectively shifts the focus from nudity per se to confidence, or strength. It’s not just the lack of shame, it’s the strength of conviction that allows these young nude ambassadors to face down the doubts of those around them–even (or maybe especially) doubts from fellow Christians–and to ignore the pending dangers of videos released onto the Internet. Matt’s brother Sam, speaking with a mother amazed by her newly nude son’s improved attitude, illustrates a contradiction:
“You asked if this is a cult. The cult isn’t out there on the patio [of the diner where the nude teens are]. The cult is the world that crushes your sons and keeps them from connecting with you. Society has given Satan control over the right to see the human body. If your kid was curious about steam engines or airplanes, you’d find a way for them to study that and encourage it. But parents today are taught to crush any curiosity about the body. It’s such a hard and fast rule that no kid will admit they’re even curious about what bodies look like–yet you know they are.”Mears, R. B. Chain Breakers. p. 300 (paperback edition).
This is a great point. As someone who has also contributed to the field of naturist fiction, I see a further parallel with my own work: in the second part of Co-ed Naked Philosophy, the nude student activist group, or Corporal Rights Movement as they call themselves, wants to “Reclaim the Image” of the nude body from society’s unrealistic and sexualized media expectations as depicted in the novel’s first part. In Chain Breakers, the message is essentially the same, with the teen group liberating knowledge of the body from Satan as the one who controls “the right to see the human body.” The Corporal Rights Movement saves the philosophy department from elimination, and the Chain Breakers save their small town from insolvency, all while enlightening others about the benefits of social nudism.
I hope the novel continues to find success. It will be mostly limited to a devout Christian readership; I say this as a matter of fact, not judgement. It may well be that this particular novel’s depiction of nude enthusiasm is exactly what these readers need. May we all find our best readers!