Saturday, January 14, 2012

Always Faithful by William Neale

Title: Always Faithful
Author: William Neale
Cover Artist: Kris Jacen
Publisher: MLR Press
Genre: contemporary
Length: 65k words

When Cade and Mark said their vows it was for always and forever. But that was before Mark entered the Marine Corps and before Cade enrolled in college. Four years later, with Mark's impending discharge and Cade's graduation, they're seemingly ready to finally have a long-awaited life together. Their hot and passionate attraction to each other remains as strong as ever. But their long separation has changed both men. And even the strongest of marriages can be threatened by temptation, suspicion, and broken promises. Can their love survive? Or, will they discover that "always" does not always mean faithful?


Always Faithful follows on from A New Normal, which I have not read, but stands on its own. Enough backstory wove through the text that I didn't feel lost, although it did appear in the occasional "As you know, Cade" chunks. There was plenty going on around it.

Cade and Mark pledged their commitment to one another while they were still teenagers, and are still going through their growth as young adults. Cade, on the brink of college graduation, is poised for some huge changes; the one he longs for is to have his husband home full time. Mark is still finding his strengths too; the Marine Corps has definitely made a man out of him, and maybe not one that Cade recognizes. I was thinking that the stats on teenaged marriages might not be all that different if they're both male.

The pair have had only four weeks of every year together for four years: they are still in the honeymoon phase and have had little opportunity to work on the mechanics of being a couple. Money and possessions are still "his" and " his" rather than "ours," joint decision-making is a skill they have yet to master. This flows out to the people around them; not everyone recognizes them as a married couple with the same rights and responsibilities to each other as a het couple. One pointed example of this ended with me pumping my fist and saying "Go, Mark!"

Mark's father, Jake, and his husband, Grant, are having their own set of difficulties in maintaining their marriage; Jake administers a VA hospital and its demands always seem to come ahead of Grant. Their path is littered with good intentions that don't come off, and Grant is understandably tired of always coming second. I do think having the GAO show up on your doorstep qualifies as an emergency, but the situations aren't always that dire. Jake is forced to assess his priorities, and then make good on them, because his actions haven't been matching his words.

I enjoyed watching both couples struggle with their relationship traumas, which were variations on "what's most important to you?" Mark and Cade had an additional stinger in their troubles, which resolved too easily. It involved an action that some readers will find distasteful, but one that I had wanted to do at intervals throughout the book and found completely understandable in the situation.

For all that the couples were dealing with highly charged emotional situations, I didn't feel entirely invested in their feelings. Part of this was due to occasional dialog with the tone of a self-help book. Cade, a relatively inexperienced drinker at first, was dealing with his anger using two bottles of wine a night, and didn't seem to feel the effects. Jake worried about him, but wasn't putting two and two together: twelve drinks a night for months on end is a serious alcohol problem. The sections where I connected best emotionally were Cade and Mark's reunion at the beginning of the story—their desperation to touch rang out loud and clear, and in the stinger situation, where Mark's explosion felt genuine.

Having two couples' stories wound together didn't dilute either, although I did feel that their resolutions depended too heavily on large doses of "I didn't mean it." Of the four men, Grant put the most thought into what he wanted and was willing to give; I liked him a lot. Jake's understated paranormal ability played next to no part here, getting mentioned as something he would not use, and if this was meant to show him as honorable, it was really only a distraction. He did find a way to make his intentions concrete and meaningful, even if I was a little dubious about how that would work out in practice. Cade and Mark still have some growing up to do, but I think they'll make it. 3.5 stars

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