It has recently come to my attention via @SmartBitches Sarah that there is a certain level of demand for the Nora Roberts Bobblehead, which was produced in limited quantities as a promotional item for the Hagerstown Suns in 2007. See photohere at SBTB, and my post about the game as provenance for the Bobble-Nora.
Sadly, I have pack rat tendencies -- it's genetic. And a small house. So I go through closets and shelves fairly ruthlessly once a year, and keep an open box for Good Will donations year round. And my Nora Bobblehead recently was considered for donation.
But in light of the demand for the Nora Bobblehead, and with a desire that she go to a good home (defined as someone who loves romance novels generally and probably Nora Roberts' work particularly), I'd like to give her away.
So comment here at LiveJournal or at WordPress or Tweet me (@jmc_bks) your favorite Nora Roberts or JD Robb book, or just what you admire or like about Ms. Roberts, and I'll put your name in a drawing for the Bobble-Nora.
The contest will close at midnight Sunday, and the new happy home will be announced on Monday.
+ Saw "Contagion". Great cast, a lot of very good acting. (It's petty, but I felt a kind of glee as Gwyneth Paltrow's character died early; her holier-than-thou attitude really irrirates me.) As a non-science person, the virus hunt seemed realistic to me, at least much more realistic than the last virus hunt movie I saw -- "Outbreak", which had so many things wrong with it even from a lay perspective.
+ Finished reading three books: New York to Dallas by JD Robb; Headhunters by Jo Nesbo; and Married with Zombies by Jesse Petersen. Reviews may be forthcoming, or perhaps just drivebys.
- There's a whole empty beach out there, including at least 200 square yards unoccupied to my right; why do random strangers set up within five feet of my umbrella? Seriously?
~ I slept twelve hours last night. Accidentally. I laid down with a book at 7pm planning to read until 9pm (Law & Order: UK) and woke up at 1am then 5am then 7am for good. I had no idea I was that tired.
Originally posted at WordPress
Accidentally in Love by Jane Davitt, m/m romance. I read this one because the title earwormed me with the Counting Crows song. It was rather category-like, all about the internal plot rather than external.
Prove It by Chris Owen. Talked about here. Enjoyed it, but felt some confusion about genre label and lack of external plot. More YA/coming of age than romance really.
Death Trick by Richard Stevenson, gay mystery. Fascinating read, picked up after Vacuous Minx mentioned it in a post on historical authenticity. Heinous ebook cover from MLR Press for the reissue. Fascinating because book set in 1979 is as alien to me as a book set in 1812; even more so, because I sort of understand the world of 1812 but am unfamiliar with that of 1979's gay culture.
The Marriage Betrayal by Lynne Graham, HP. Part 1 of 2, discussed here. Virgins, greek billionaires, grudges, assumptions.
The Many Sins of Lord Cameron by Jennifer Ashley, historical romance. What sins? I feel like there was supposed to be more here, I was supposed to find the hero much more dangerous, but mostly I felt like he was both spoiled and scarred and needed therapy, or at least to be told to grow up. The heroine, meh.
Bear, Otter, and the Kid by TJ Klune, m/m romance. Longish post here.
The Dead Travel Fast by Deanna Raybourn, Victorian-set Gothic. Tell tell tell, especially the ending.
The Keepsake by Tess Gerritsen, police procedural, mystery. Well paced, liked the mystery. Vaguely squicked or put off by Isles romantic relationship with a priest -- another professional woman making poor choices?
Georgette Heyer's Regency World by Jennifer Kloester, non-fiction. Bored by this book. Good as reference material perhaps, but anyone who has read widely in the genre or non-fiction about the historical period already knows this stuff.
The White Knight by Josh Lanyon, m/m novella. Felt recycled, need to check my e-bookshelf to compare.
Bad Boyfriend by K.A. Mitchell, m/m romance, an eARC. Loved this. Working on a review now, but it won't be posted until December when the book is released.
The Redeemer by Jo Nesbo, police procedural, mystery. Very good, twisty, several different threads that all tied together. Working on a review for it.
+ For better or worse, I've got a draft of my Fall Festival fic. It's just over 2,000 words, much shorter than I expected. Struggled with the prompts and the POV character. But at least I'll have something to send. And I'll include an apology in the intro to the recipient, because she really deserves better.
+ Jo Nesbo's newly released (in the US) book, Headhunters, arrived today \o/
+ I read an ARC for a book due out in December and I loved the book. I want to squee about it so much but am restraining myself. I do plan on writing a review this week, although I won't post it until closer to the release date. But this way it's written and won't be forgotten as I read other books.
+/- The biopsy on the mole removed by the doctor came back negative for cancer. The cream she prescribed for my skin, which she warned would make things worse before it made things better, is making my skin really, really worse. Blotchy, itchy, oily, uncomfortable.
1. Persuasion. Because I can pick this book up and read it at any time at all, from beginning to end or just a passage here and there. Also re-watched the BBC adaptation (the Hinds-Root edition, thanks). While there are things I could quibble about in the adaptation, they are far outweighed by the performances and the way so many passages and bits of dialog are worked into the script.
2. Georgette Heyer's Regency World by Jennifer Kloester. This is probably a good reference book or resource for readers who are interested in learning the background of the Regency period but have no foundation. I've read a fair bit within the genre and also of non-fiction about that period in history, so there was not anything new here. If anyone wants my copy, drop me a line and I'll send it your way.
3. The Keepsake by Tess Gerritsen. I'd never read a Rizzoli & Isles mystery before. This one was pretty good as a procedural, and I enjoyed the Egyptology and archaeology background. Felt vaguely squicked by Isles' personal life; it read like another example of a professional woman making bad romantic choices, as if she can't be balanced and successful in both.
4. The Dead Travel Fast by Deanna Raybourn. A Victorian, Transylvanian-set gothic, meta-fiction of sorts with the narrator being an author who writes gothic romances of her own. Very atmospheric, but spoiled by an abrupt ending full of telling rather than showing.
I bought two Heyer books when they were on sale with a plan to read them after reading the nonfiction about her Regency world...but that didn't happen. Wasn't in a Regency mood. Maybe later this month.
Originally posted at WordPress.
Bear, Otter and the Kid by T.J. Klune
© 2011, published by Dreamspinner Press
Three years ago, Bear McKenna’s mother took off for parts unknown with her new boyfriend, leaving Bear to raise his six-year-old brother Tyson, aka the Kid. Somehow they’ve muddled through, but since he’s totally devoted to the Kid, Bear isn’t actually doing much living—with a few exceptions, he’s retreated from the world, and he’s mostly okay with that. Until Otter comes home.
Otter is Bear’s best friend’s older brother, and as they’ve done for their whole lives, Bear and Otter crash and collide in ways neither expect. This time, though, there’s nowhere to run from the depth of emotion between them. Bear still believes his place is as the Kid’s guardian, but he can’t help thinking there could be something more for him in the world... something or someone.
I’m not entirely certain how this book came to my attention. Maybe a give away, or a review online somewhere? The blurb reminded me a great deal of the plot of the movie Shelter, and it prompted me to see how a novel might treat the same general plot.
As the blurb indicates, Derrick (aka Bear) is acting in loco parentis for his mother, who abandoned his young half-brother, Tyson (aka the Kid) to him just as Bear finished high school, putting the kibosh on any plans Bear had for a college education or escaping her white trash ethos. He’s lucky, though, in that he has a strong support network made up of his childhood friends and their families, who stick with him for emotional and financial support as he raises the Kid, a “vegetarian eco-terrorist-in-training”. In addition to Creed, his BFF, and Anna, his girlfriend and other BFF, who have been physically present for the last three years, there is Oliver (aka Otter), Creed’s older brother who was an original part of the support network but who disappeared abruptly for reasons that are made clear very early – there’s huge tension between Bear and Otter because Bear, ostensibly straight, kissed Otter, out and gay, while upset and drunk. Otter disappeared, more or less, for three years because of his guilt over Bear kissing him and feeling he took advantage. Until the beginning of the book, when he returns and all the tension comes to a head. And that is just the set up of the book and the first couple of chapters!
With Otter’s return, the two of them have to negotiate some sort of truce or ruin their extended family unit. Creed and Anna both notice the tension, and bug them to figure things out while not really understanding what the problem is. The vast majority of what follows is Bear realizing he loves Otter, despite the fact that he is not gay and is not attracted to any other men. In fact, he dismisses the idea of being “gay for you” as being impossible but for the fact that he does love and physically want Otter. Otter is kind of a doormat, indulging Bear in whatever he wants relationship-wise and keeping everything on the down low in front of his brother and Anna. Just as the two of them have begun to figure that out and are ready for the big reveal to Creed and Anna (who have a surprise of their own), potential disaster strikes, pushing them and their relationship back to square one.
There are the bones of a potentially good book buried here. But the bones are buried deep. The book read like a rough first draft, one that had not yet been betaed or reviewed by a crit group, let alone a content editor. Pacing, narration, and some language usage need tightening or review in the book.
Vacuous Minx, SarahFrantz, and I, among others, have noted on Twitter and elsewhere that many of Dreamspinner’s works need better content editing. Even one of our mutual favorites, Sean Kennedy’s Tigers & Devils, could have been just a little bit better (from A- to A) with some words trimmed and the pacing tightened up. And that is very much the case here. BOatK was a Kindle book for me, and it had more than 9,000 “locations”; in comparison, an average mass market paperback usually has between 4,000 and 6,000. Parts of the book dragged incredibly, and there was a great deal of repetitive angst that served no larger purpose. Cutting a good third of the book would have been a mercy.
The Kid as a narrative device is both original and unoriginal. He’s the center that Bear rotates around, and he’s essential to the plot. And yet he’s conveniently absent or able to entertain himself through large chunks of the book, reappearing to give sage relationship advice to his older brother and to take care of him. He’s quirky and different in his fascination with eco-terrorism, and his abandonment issues are realistic and very well done. And yet his emotional intelligence is unrealistic for a child his age – having an eight year old give romantic advice to a twenty-one year old is just plain weird and kind of creepy.
The narration is by Bear in first person for the entire book, but for an epilogue narrated by Otter. And in many places, the narrative style is extremely awkward and self-conscious. Parts of the book scream for the POV of the other characters, but instead of changing POV, those passages are narrated by Bear in a “tell tell tell” fashion, filtered entirely through him and retold by him, even when dialogue or other stylistic devices could be used to better convey the events or speech/opinions/actions of the other characters.
The Gay4U trope and the relationship dynamic between Bear and Otter left me feeling uncomfortable, and I’m struggling to identify and articulate why. I noted in a comment over at Vacuous Minx’s that a couple of the issues were: 1) failure to address the Gay4U issue other than to dismiss it out of hand completely while acknowledging that is exactly what Bear is for Otter – what a waste of an opportunity to actually explore the trope; and 2) the history of the relationship between Bear and Otter and the hints of very early attraction told via flashback, which seems a little squicky to me as it falls a little too closely into the gay=pedo smear.
The nicknames? Cute for a minute and then irritating.
Bear comes perilously close to being a self-sacrificing Mary Sue. And he spends large chunks of the book being an asshat, too.
Some words were used oddly. For example, machismo for macho, tact for tack or tactic, etc. At one point, Bear describes his eyes as being “tacky and crass” after crying himself to sleep; while I grasp what he meant, there is no usage of “crass” that makes sense in that context.
The ending is simultaneously delayed, in the sense that it should have come at least 10,000 words earlier, and abrupt in the sense that the HEA feels manufactured and way too soon for where Bear and Otter are in their relationship.
Someone on Twitter mentioned that the author is planning a sequel to this book, where some of the lingering questions and issues may be resolved, and that better pacing would come with practice and experience. That’s a charitable position to take, but as a reader and consumer, I don’t appreciate being the testing or practice run for an author; if I’m paying full price for a book, I expect it to be polished and produced appropriately by the publisher, with the best efforts of both the author and the publisher. The time for learning your craft is before you start asking people to pay for your work IMO. (Yes, writers learn continuously and continue to hone their craft, but readers should be able to have minimum expectations of the books they buy, in terms of what the authors and publisher bring to the table and charge them for.)
As I read the book, I enjoyed it even as I noted all the things that were awkward or clunky or should have been fixed by a good editor. But ultimately, I can’t really recommend this book to other readers without a huge caveat or warning.
I used sunblock assiduously but still managed to get a few odd streaks of sunburn -- across the tops of my thighs, and that little tender spot where my arm meets my torso -- the outer part of the armpit, I guess. And oddly, despite remembering to put sunscreen on them, my feet are the brownest part of my body, an odd reverse of the usual sock-tan-lines :P
Ate a lot of fresh seafood, yum. I feel like I'm about to confess to something terrible: as much as I love seafood, I don't really *love* lobster. I mean, I ate a lobster roll and it was good (although why are the rolls always stale?), but the clams and scallops were more to my taste. And the fish and chips. And the clam chowder. And Cape Cod Creamery's ice cream? Delicious, especially their Dennis Double Chocolate, which is a dark chocolate ice cream with small chunks of dark chocolate and cinnamon. Marion's Pies in Chatham does great savory and sweet pies, and the orange citrus rolls were out of this world. Think cinnamon roll in texture and size, but lose the cinnamon and add a lemon and orange flavored sugar glaze with bits of zest mixed in.
Ended up coming back a day early because I didn't want to be driving down the east coast as Irene was hitting MD, NJ, NY. Which has turned out to be a good thing. Traffic was pretty easy yesterday (except through NYC), since no one had evacuated yet. C ended up not coming, which was not a huge surprise, given the weather and other things.
ETA: why is LJ ignoring my paragraph breaks and multiple returns?
+ Posted a sort of review over at WordPress of a book mentioned during the IASPR conference in May.
- I'm thinking of making the comments have a mandatory sign-in of some sort, assuming that's an LJ option. The spam I've gotten in the last month is ridiculous, a couple hundred comments, higher volume than legitimate comments, most in French, Russian and Hebrew, although a few in English (about canker sores?) thrown in. There are a few people with whom I've interacted regularly elsewhere that don't have LJ accounts, so I'd miss their observations, but I'm reachable by email, twitter and over at WordPress (where I'll probably start keeping all my book-related posts) so we can still communicate, I hope.
- Once again I was asked today why a data dump didn't work. The two databases I've got admin rights to had the data; I have no idea why the report based on the data download is missing data -- that's probably an IT issue related to the report script or data migration that was part of the last release/update/upgrade of the program so IT would be the best place to go for help. And yet somehow, they asked me first. The logic escapes me.
- My romance reading ennui knows no bounds. None of the samples or unread books on my Kindle appeal. None of the books atop Mt. TBR appeal. Am sad.
+ Bought two Kindle books by Georgette Heyer. Probably wouldn't have but for the anniversary sale ($1.99 each!). Otherwise, I can respect her place in the development of the modern genre romance, but have not been impressed by the books I've read. Regency trads aren't my thing for the most part, Carla Kelly being the notable exception. And she seems to have left the subgenre behind.
- Why is Cobra Starship touring with Bieber? Granted, it's the South American leg of his tour, but still, I didn't realize they had a significant overlap of fans; I though CS's average fan was several years older. Eh, whatever sells tickets, I guess.
- Dear IT peeps: saying that I'm the SysAdmin for that system? Fine. But as a practical matter, I am only acting/holding the position until a new higher up is hired. I have NO IDEA how to do what you want. When I asked the retired person who used to do it, she said that task was explicitly given to IT. I'm sorry the person responsible is on vacation in Montana during your critical testing period, but that doesn't make me any more able to do what you want. No love, me.
~ Looking at the line up of authors who'll be attending the National Book Festival next month, there are very few (3 or 4) that I might be willing to wait in long lines to meet or have autograph books. And genre fiction is extremely poorly represented, as usual.
~ The BIA essentially said last week that aliens in custody don't have to get the immigration equivalent of Miranda. I...am not sure what I think about this. And while I'm probably conflating a lot of things, I'm curious about how this works in conjunction with Padilla.
+ Read an HP/category yesterday that was sort of meh. But getting to the end and seeing what the author (and publisher) is doing to the couple next really irritates me. The whole point of the category rom is that it is a discrete story with guaranteed HEA. Yes, full of ridiculous tropes, but still appreciated for being a known quantity. Except this one wasn't, and the epilogue/blurb for the "next" book seriously irritated me. More on that tomorrow, though.
+ I have four new tires. They were entirely unplanned. I noticed Friday night that one of my tires looked very low, like it was going flat. (And one of my neighbors knocked on my door and said something, too.) But the whole car was just serviced a few weeks ago, including tire rotation, alignment, and pressure/tread checked. Turns out that during my trip to Nags Head, or maybe just while driving local, a nail became embedded in the tire. And it was too close to the wall of the tire to repair. And the others, although there tread was fine, were 7+ years old and beginning to show cracking and dry rot. I could've done two this month, two next month, but since I'll be driving 1,000 RT in the next few weeks, it seems safer to do them all at once.
+ It rained like crazy yesterday and today; trash cans were blown out of yards and down the street. NOAA.gov said up to an inch fell, but it seemed like a whole lot more.
Sam Waterston is going to be King Lear, if you're interested in seeing Jack McCoy as the mad, blind king.
My DirecTv receiver is dead. I may have killed it by leaving it on accidentally. Or maybe it died of old age (8+ years). Or perhaps a power surge during the electrical storm last week? The tv is fine, but the receiver is kaput. The debate now is whether to go subscription-free, relying on Hulu and YouTube and streams. Sports and BBC America are weighing heavily against it though.
+ Went to the Outer Banks for the first time, just for a few days, Thursday – Saturday. Some friends from work who go annually invited me to stay with them in Nags Head. Took the scenic route (301 to 17) rather than 95/64, which was what Google Maps kept trying to make me drive. The scenic route probably added a half hour to the trip, but the landscape was gorgeous and the road was empty for the most part. The house had four bedrooms, plenty of space. Enjoyed the beach in the morning, followed by a walk to Sonic for Cherry-Limeade, then lunch at the house and playing in the pool all the afternoon. On Friday, the wind was up and the surf was high; right in front of us, a guy was knocked over and out by the waves. It took five people to drag him to shore, and he didn’t regain consciousness before the EMTs arrived and strapped him to a back board and took off for the hospital. It didn’t look like he was breathing at first. I hope he’s okay. Other than that, I enjoyed the trip and the company, and would absolutely go back.
+ Went to the Legg Mason Tennis Classic today to see the singles and doubles final. The doubles team I was rooting for (Michael Llodra and Nenad Zimonjic) came back to force a tie break in the second set and then won the match in a super tie break \o/. On the singles front, I didn’t really care who won. Radek Stepanek is kind of a spoiler, I think — he hangs around and surprises people. And Gael Monfils (#1 seed) is kind of flaky — he’s got loads of talent but you never know who’ll show up, the serious player or the circus clown who’s more interested in trick shots and acrobatics than the game. I bailed during the (first?) rain delay, when Stepanek was up 4-2; I’d been out in the sun and heat for 4+ hours and was feeling dizzy and disoriented despite drinking 2 liters of water during that period, needed shade and AC.
+ Have not read much in the last week. Just “Prove It” by Chris Owen, which I’ll probably blog about tomorrow for SBD.
+ Do I need to see Patrick Stump next week? I want to, but is it necessary?
+ I’ve gotten my assignment for the fandom fic exchange I signed up for. The prompt belongs to the person whose fan fiction sets the bar for my OTP, so I’m feeling somewhat intimidated.
The books I read in July were a pretty mixed bag.
1. When Beauty Tamed the Beast by Eloisa James. European historical. James gets a lot of positive press and reviews in Romancelandia, in part because her books appeal to a broad spectrum of readers but also (and this is just my opinion, folks) because she's an English literature professor who writes genre fiction, thus lending the genre respectability. Anyway, I bought a copy of this book because it was mentioned in one of the panels at the IASPR conference and read it early in the month. Thirty days later, the only lingering impression is that the heroine's sensibility was very modern/21st century and that the book was more a fantasy historical.
2. Dirty Kiss by Rhys Ford. M/m romance. This book has a Japanese-American hero who falls in love with a Korean-American boy. The mystery was interesting and I loved the conflict drawn between one hero who is very bound by tradition and another who has abandoned it. Given the conflict between the two competing views on how to deal with their cultural backgrounds and families, I'm not sure how convincing the lovey story was but it was a quick read.
3. The Dark Road to Darjeeling by Deanna Raybourn. Victorian-set mystery. Wrote about Lady Julia here.
4. The Dark Enquiry by Deanna Raybourn. Next in the series, another Victorian-set mystery. DNF. The plot seemed very convoluted yet somehow also predictable. How'd the author manage that?
5. A Night of Scandal by Sarah Morgan. Harlequin Presents category. This was well-reviewed at Dear Author, which prompted me to pick up a copy. Quick read, very good within the HP/category parameters. Would check out the related books in the series.
6. A Change of Tune by J.M. Cartwright. M/m romance, trope abuse written about here.
7. Muscling Through by J.L. Merrow. M/m romance, written about here.
8. Khyber Run by Amber Green. M/m romance. I haven't written about this book yet, because I'm still mulling it over. Had a longish twitter conversation with @sunita_d about it. The background of the hero (displaced Afghan American) is different and a little risky; the plot is very briskly paced and kept me turning pages (metaphorically, since this is an ebook). The romance was the weakest part of the book. And yet, after finishing and then actually thinking about a great deal of what happened, plot-wise, there are gaping plot wholes and a series of extremely tenuous, unlikely connections that string together to advance the plot and then to try to give the narrator his HEA. The book failed as a romance, but it prompted a fair amount of thought and conversation.
9. Spin Out by James Buchanan. M/m romantic suspense, second of a series. Set in rural Utah with a Mormon hero. Really like James Buchanan's voice and style. Struggled with this book, primarily because the narrator was a giant jerk through a large part of the book, acting paternal and withholding information from his partner/lover. Liked the mystery portion, but it wasn't as well integrated into the what was going on with the relationship as with the first book.
10. Night Season by Chelsea Cain. Mystery. At last, Gretchen the Beauty Killer is fading from center stage for Archie Sheridan and this series! She's still there, visible out of the corner of Archie's eye if he squints just right, especially when he looks at the scars he bears. Enjoyed the execution of this murder mystery and manhunt.
11.. Half Pass by Astrid Amara. DNF. Whiny hero + closeted potential hero + way too much exposition about horse training.
12. Between Sinners and Saints by Marie Sexton. M/m romance. Another book that prompted a twitter discussion with @sunita_d, this book was really not a genre romance novel. It was more gay inspirational fiction with some therapy thrown in on the side. The narrator seriously creeped me out at the beginning of the book, reminding me of this article at Big Think. Even though the narrator realized later that he'd crossed the line, he didn't get that it was a general line, he only thought he behavior was inappropriate in that particular instance because of his dating target's sexual history.
13. The Pharaoh's Concubine by Z.A. Maxfield. M/m romance. A third hot mess of a book, it started well and then derailed. Where to begin? The manufactured attraction/relationship between the heroes? Or the serious squick of the narrator's high school lover eventually marrying his twin sister? Or the ridiculous ending?
Interestingly, 9, 12, and 13 all involve gay men whose Mormon families or communities have either sanctioned, badgered or disowned them because of their sexuality One book deals with that censure through a professional filter (risk of job loss or demotion) but with family being silent on the issue; another is disowned by his parents; the third is constantly being pestered about being reprogrammed or choosing not to be gay or to not engage in sex acts. What's up with the Mormon focus? Are other churches being used similarly in the m/m arena and I've not noticed? Or is there something special about LDS?
Edited because I am apparently unable to count.
Asking me in JULY if I will do two tasks that must be performed in OCTOBER and NOVEMBER respectively? Tasks that my now-retired-boss used to do? That tells me that you aren't going to have our vacancy filled by then. You've had three months lead time plus three more before the work needs to be done; one task can't even begin until after October 1, and the other until November 1.
Six months isn't enough time? Really?
I am NOT going to be backed into her job. It's not a matter of capability; I figured I'd be training the new person on how to do those tasks. It's a matter of desire.
- What happened in Norway is terrible.
- Seriously, American politicians?
+ Friends with Benefits wasn't bad. Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake have pretty good chemistry on screen. The repeated use of a flash mob? Eh. The editing was a little choppy, too. But it was mildly entertaining and a good way to avoid being outside in 110F weather.
- Straw Dogs remake? Why? The trailer alone is full of offensive, sexist, ugly tropes. Country > city. And yet the country is full of losers leading disappointed/disappointing lives. Education = effete. Critical wife = bitchy, deserves to be punished. Being fired for being an asshole always should be responded to with violence. And attacking your former employer at night with high powered rifles is the most reasonable response. I think a lot of True Blood fans (women) are going to go see this movie for Alexander Skarsgard, and they are going to be unhappy with the character he plays, who is a redneck rapist. (I say this because the PR seems to frame his character ambiguously, and when asked about the character, he said it isn't fundamentally a bad man, just disappointed with how his life has turned out. Because, y'know, being disappointed with your life makes rape acceptable?) Yeah, not a movie I'm going to be paying to see, thanks.
Okay, I read a book (and enjoyed) this past weekend that has been niggling at me, and I can’t really figure out why.
The bigger they come, the harder they fall... in love.
Cambridge art professor Larry Morton takes one, alcohol-glazed look at the huge, tattooed man looming in a dark alley, and assumes he’s done for. Moments later he finds himself disarmed—literally and figuratively. And, the next morning, he can’t rest until he offers an apology to the man who turned out to be more gentle than giant.
Larry's intrigued to find there's more to Al Fletcher than meets the eye; he possesses a natural artistic talent that shines through untutored technique. Unfortunately, no one else seems to see the sensitive soul beneath Al’s imposing, scarred, undeniably sexy exterior. Least of all Larry's class-conscious family, who would like nothing better than to split up this mismatched pair.
Is it physical? Oh, yes, it’s deliciously physical, and so much more—which makes Larry’s next task so daunting. Not just convincing his colleagues, friends and family that their relationship is more than skin deep. It’s convincing Al.
Muscling Through’s narrator, Al, is a working class fellow. He once aspired to be a boxer, and briefly worked as a bouncer at a club where he was struck in the face with a bottle while breaking up a fight. He works outside, putting punts in and out of the River Cam, which he enjoys. Al is not a shining example of the British education system, having barely scraped through with any education at all. He loves his mum and misses his dad, and is a good sort.
On the surface, he and Larry, an art history professor at Cambridge University, have little in common. Larry is educated and wealthy and surrounded by people of similar background, and he appears to be pretty comfortable that way. After a comedy of errors and misunderstandings when they first meet in a dark alley, they have drinks and then dinner and then sex. At the outset, the relationship is (in Al’s own words) “just fucking”. But then as they get to know each other, they find things in common (Charlie Chaplin movies, art) and learn to actually like each other. And then they wind up doing all those couple-type things, going to work dos together, introducing family, etc.
Merrow creates a wonderful sense of place in her books. Al and Larry are both creatures of Cambridge, but of very different parts of Cambridge. Their respective differences don’t keep them from appreciating the school and town or each other. I especially enjoyed the way Merrow used the bridges for geography and Al’s employment, but also as a thing for the two of them to share and a point of reference later in the book when the characters visit Venice.
The only part of the book that felt really awkward or out of place was the “It Gets Better” moment, which felt like a Dan Savage PSA. Don’t get me wrong, I think the project a great thing, I’m just not sure how that passage fit with the rest of the novel.
Since Al narrates, he’s easy to get to know: he’s very self-deprecating, accustomed to being treated as a threat and as a lesser being, even in relationships. He looks on the bright side of things most often, is a good judge of people, and is very much a realist. He’s not bright, and he knows it, but he’s hard working and a good sort. Larry is a bit harder to get to know as a character, and to be honest, the first introduction to him is not at all flattering to him or to Al – he assumes Al’s about to rob him and continues blathering on about it even after Al has been a gentleman and escorted drunk Larry home. Later when he presented Larry to his colleagues, he seemed to be doing it for shock value. But that type of behavior eventually passed, and he becomes a champion of Al’s art and a defender against both his own parents and Al’s mum when she makes the occasional mean comment.
Reading Muscling Through, which is NOT a bleak or depressing book by any measure, reminded me of Flowers for Algernon. I remember reading Algernon in middle school, and feeling so incredibly sorry for the narrator. He was not smart and then he was brilliant and then it all faded again. Was it worse to be not so bright but content with his life as he knew it, or to be brilliant suddenly and then have to live through it fading back into whatever before or even worse?
As I read (and after), I had no problem at all with the difference in Al and Larry’s economic situations or their education or background. But I did wonder about the difference in their intellects, and if it would eventually be a problem. Is that elitist?
They have art, among other things, to bind them together long term. But I wonder if it would have been different if Larry had been a professor of English or Mathematics. What then would be the glue holding them together?
I don't know. And I'm not even sure what is niggling at me. Gah!