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Split is a not-to-be-missed first novel by bi Canadian writer Mel Bossa (Bold Strokes Books, 2011). Bossa uses the clever strategy of telling her tale of adult romance through the background of a rediscovered teen diary. The diary effectively contextualizes and adds tension to the adult story line. Derek O’Reilly, or Red, is presented a long-forgotten diary by his dying Aunt Fran, the woman who raised him in the physical absence of his father and the emotional absence of his mother. Bossa makes Red’s diary almost another character, when she has the eleven-year old Red name his diary Bump for his greatly anticipated, but stillborn, sibling. Bump becomes the split emotional life of the shy Red as he struggles with his budding crush for Nicolai Lund, the older teen brother of Red’s boyhood friend, Boone. The voice of the diary is always believably that of a young boy.
The Swedish-Canadian Lund family becomes Red’s family of choice and Bossa gives us a rich and unsentimental portrayal of this loving family. Boone Lund, Red’s best friend is on the verge of juvenile delinquency and he threatens to pull Red over with him. Boone’s little sister, Lene, has a crush on the much embarrassed Red and Bossa uses this comic touch to relieve Red’s boyish over-seriousness. The Lund parents are loving but flawed adults.
Bossa gives the Lunds a full-bodied existence integral to the story without losing focus on the novel’s central relationship between Red and the coral blue-eyed Nico. Bossa paints the tan and golden-downed Nick with an incendiary adolescent sexuality that feels dangerous in proximity to Red’s boyish crush. That relationship is tantalizingly revealed in bits and pieces as the adult Derek rereads his boyhood diary while facing tough decisions about his relationship with his lover Nathan, from whom he is emotionally split. Nathan is all A-Team, handsome, well-built, successful and great in bed but so emotionally self-focused that he is surprised when what he wants is not what Derek needs.
After the teen-aged Nico runs away with his high school lover, David, he leaves the young Red crushed and his family heart-broken. When the grown-up but not necessarily more mature Nick re-enters Derek’s life, Nick is still struggling not to be emotionally split from his family and the new loves in his life. A talented chef, he even names his trendy restaurant, Split. The adult Nick is still emotionally combustible in his very hot sexual encounters with Derek. Derek must make a decision to stay with Nathan, safely split from his own emotions, or risk every thing by opening his heart to his one true love.
This amazing first novel was one of the best new romances of 2011. You can follow this new author on her blog at http://melbossa.wordpress.com. Catch her two newest novels, Franky Gets Real and Suite Nineteen.
“There’s no story. It’s just people behaving. I love it.”
Love in the Loire (White Lake Press, 2011) by David Leddick reprises characters from his two earlier novels, My Worst Date and Never Eat In. In the book’s acknowledgments, Leddick disarmingly suggests, “You should have read them before you read this book. But it’s never too late.” Love in the Loire is the first fiction I have read by Mr. Leddick (he has also authored several award-winning books on male nude art photography), and I whole-heartedly recommend it, whether you have had the chance to read its predecessors or not.
Our romantic hero, the actor Hugo Bianchi, from My Worst Date, has arrived in the village of Cornichons to perform in a summer theater festival. The lushly romantic setting in the Loire Valley of France is comically tempered by the village’s name and Hugo quickly finds himself in a pickle amid the romantic intrigues of the theater. His summer hosts are Nina and Graham, the charming and handsome couple first met in Never Eat In. Nina is from the fashion world and Graham is a former gay porn star. Though very in love and with a baby on the way, as the summer progresses, Nina becomes concerned with how to keep her stay at home hubby occupied and away from temptation, male and female.
Meanwhile, the flamboyant director, Toca Sacar, is definitely on the make for a play with Hugo. Hugo heads him off at the pass:
“Seriously, my job is to remain the impossible dream.”
“Well, we might have a brief and unsatisfactory romance that I could mourn over for years. And tell my friends about endlessly. While I picked up unattractive strangers on the street and had some unsatisfactory sex with them.”
“You must be Catholic,” I said.
True romance begins to bud when Hugo meets the leading man in the festival’s upcoming musical revival of “The Red Mill.” Steve Strapontin (one wonders if Leddick means somehow to refer to the French comic book series) is a German, with “very dark hair” and his “unusual green-gray eyes had the look of an intelligent animal.” Steve is the perfect gentleman and in very short order Hugo and he are fucking passionately. But Hugo seems to hold himself in reserve and Steve has the apparent earmarks of a heartbreaker.
Meanwhile, the theater must go on. Kitty Carlisle Hart, who debuted in the original production of “The Red Mill,” arrives to provide production advice, but Toca believes that that won’t be sufficient to generate local interest in the musical and so plans to bring in a prominent French star, because, “God knows, no one here is going to have any idea who Kitty Carlisle Hart is.” And Hugo replies as many of us would, “Who is she?”
The novel builds on a series of apparently aimless but charming vignettes on theater life, the French countryside, historical anecdotes and sex, as the theater troupe stages a series of simply dreadful productions. Mr. Leddick’s style is aphoristic and the characters’ frequent asides to the reader on a variety of non-sequiturs are hilarious. For example, Hugo confides:
I don’t want to wander too far away from the subject here, but have you noticed that vegetarians are never reluctant to accept an invitation to an expensive restaurant? And then drive the headwaiter crazy because they only want green beans? And there aren’t any. And their veggies cost about fifty dollars. But that’s just one thing that’s annoying about vegetarians. If I were a vegetarian, I’d try to see if I could keep it to myself. It would involve eating a lot of pasta in restaurants.
And, yet, as the soft French summer draws to a close and the first hint of autumn chills the air, Hugo and Steve’s summer romance looks like it will survive for another season in the theater in New York, Nina has Graham safely distracted from temptation and everything has somehow come to a wise and genial conclusion after all. And you will feel wiser and more genial for having read this delightful soufflé of a novel.
Mr. Rochester Meets Dr. Frankenstein
M/M romance favorite, Erastes manages to evoke the Victorian classic Jane Eyre, and sci fi fantasy in her historical romance, Mere Mortals (Lethe Press, 2011). Three young men, Crispin, Jude and Myles, all orphaned and all recently sent down from their various boarding schools “for the love that dare not speak its name,” have been taken on as wards by the rich and mysterious Mr. Philip Smallwood. The three youths are summoned to Bittern’s Reach, Smallwood’s rambling estate on Horsey Mere in the brooding Norfolk Broads. Erastes makes good use of her haunting watery landscape as a key to the dark mystery at the center of her romance. In a masterful piece of foreshadowing, as Crispin sees Bittern’s Reach for the first time, Erastes sets the scene and introduces a dark note in the character of Dr. Baynes:
I had not expected a huge elegant red-brick mansion with curved ornamentation to the gables. As the boat neared the jetty it became clear that behind the house the river widened considerably into a large lake, or a broad, I realized I should call them.
“Do you sail, Mr. Thorne?” Baynes asked….“No, sir. That is, nothing more than rowing. A little punting once or twice.”
“Well, you’d best learn,” Baynes said. “You can’t see it from here, but the Reach is on its own island. Boats are the horse, the carriages and carts here. You’ll find that out soon enough.”
While waiting for their first meeting with their absent patron, the three young men learn of each other’s oddly similar circumstances in life and wonder at their good fortune. A seemingly innocent romantic pairing between Crispin and Jude later assumes sinister undertones. An initial conflict between Crispin and the irascible Myles establishes a foundation for a more richly textured relationship.
When Mr. Smallwood finally makes his appearance, he is handsome and charming. His generosity towards the three youths, while mysterious, seems open hearted. Handsome and courteous young personal menservants are assigned to wait upon each of them. Mr. Smallwood orders that each youth be outfitted in wardrobes that are surprisingly similar except for the odd detail. Each is given an identical silver pocket watch. This part of the book will be a delight for historical romance fans since Erastes provides rich details of the young gentlemen’s Victorian haberdashery. Likewise, Mr. Smallwood assigns Crispin, Jude and Myles a full round of instruction in gentlemanly pursuits—Latin, horsemanship, fencing and dance. Erastes’ sensual portrayal of these three manly young graces makes for very pleasurable reading.
But while Mr. Smallwood is generous and charming, he harbors a dark secret from his past. Locked in a room at Bittern’s Reach is a portrait of a handsome young man that Smallwood gazes upon as if submerged in a trance. Though normally kind and fair-handed, his temper is prone to snap violently. And when Crispin and Myles break into the boathouse, they begin slowly to understand the part that each of them has been chosen to play in Mr. Smallwood’s personal tragedy.
In Philip Smallwood, Erastes has Mr. Rochester meeting Dr. Frankenstein. In Smallwood’s monstrous scheme to resurrect his lost love he is both a man tragically drowning in his past and sinisterly planning for a future that anticipates cloning. Unfortunately, this sinister aspect of the novel is out of balance with the playful, youthful romance of the novel’s first half. Mr. Smallwood’s darkness is too successfully hidden by the author’s depiction of his kindness and charm so that the reader feels blindsided when the meanness of his plan is revealed. Erastes’ portrayal of Smallwood’s duplicity and delusion also rob the character of the possibility of a cathartic, even if tragic redemption. What he plans is too despicable for our pity. Villains are villains, but Erastes has created in Smallwood a character nobler than his actions would indicate and I felt disappointed that Erastes did not allow him a loftier, if still tragic end. That I would even care shows the richness of her accomplishment in creating this character.
“Sometimes the best love of all is right beneath your eyes.”
Cocktails and Cockpics: A Grinder Love Story by Chris Tracey is one of those 99 cent, self-published specials that pop-up on Amazon and, yes, I totally bought it for the sexy cover. For 99 cents, what the heck? And it turned out to be a romance worth reading.
The plot revolves around the life and loves of four flatmates at 151 Park Approach in London. In the funny opening scene, the flat’s owner, Peter, his shallow gay pal, Blake, and his long-time beard and fag hag, Rose, are interviewing for a new flatmate using a series of test questions that would seem to be more appropriate in hiring a club DJ than in selecting a flatmate. The winning candidate, “named himself solely Beefy, was 25, worked at Comme Des Garcons and was new to London.” Blake responds, as he does to almost any situation that arises in the book, “If he’s as perfect as he sounds he’s in, in my bed tonight.” But Peter warns him, “You can’t shag another flatmate.” Beefy’s winning response to the question, “Jock strap or boxers?” is “Neither.”
But Beefy has a little secret—he’s faux-gay! He’s playing gay to snap up a great flat share at a great price, thus setting up a series of bittersweet miscommunications between him and the lovely lovelorn Rose for whom he feels an immediate attraction. Beefy goes so far as to stage a relationship with his Brazilian work mate, named Jose, who of course would only love for the pretence of their relationship to go too far. Meanwhile, Beefy introduces his real girlfriend, the fashion vulture, Sibyl, as his “lesbian fag hag.” Her rival-dar immediately goes up when she meets Rose and she does her best to cast a curse on her attraction to Beefy.
The perpetually closeted Peter is a wealthy banker cashing in on the misfortunes of the economic downtrodden all around him, but at least he is generous with his friends. His money keeps Rose’s vintage clothing shop, Interior Motives, afloat and the wastrel Blake content with the latest electronic devices and most trendy fashions. Blake’s only steady vocation is shagging other grindrinos. His avocation is dissing fashion-challenged gays and posting their pictures with his iPhone on his blog that “had made quite a stir in some elements of the lesser known gay press (which is all the gay press).”
The two make a bet on who can get a boyfriend before Christmas. Though Peter seems a safe bet, he is too class conscious to even notice the husband material jogging right beside him in the park. Meanwhile, Blake is gay-listed after he disses a gay boy in a wheelchair on his blog and can’t even snag a shag at G-A-Y bar anymore, let along a boyfriend.
After a rather too long a series of sexual misadventures, Peter finally lands his man, Rose discovers Beefy is really James, a straight guy, and Blake is gaybilitated after publically apologizing to Justin, the differently-abled gay boy he dissed. And the novel ends with them all looking for a new flatmate again. Not a bad happily ever after for 99 cents, or even full price. If you want to download a fun read for your commute, I recommend it.