Monday, April 23, 2012

Tommy's Story by AKM Miles

Title: Tommy’s Story
Author: AKM Miles
Publisher: MLR Press
Genre: contemporary
Length: 100 pages

It's going to be a real test of Tommy Marsh's strength for him to be able to let go of his past in order to have the relationship he wants with Daniel Anderson.

Tommy Marsh's life was good now. The last nine years had made up for the hell he'd gone through during his first twelve. After growing up at Scarcity Sanctuary, he'd become a counselor with extensive psychology training, working with abused children.

The thing that was missing from his life was a loving, passionate relationship with the man of his dreams, Daniel Anderson. Tommy was so afraid his past would interfere with the future he wanted. A traumatic event sets things in motion and he's forced to admit his feelings and face his fears. Will Tommy's new strength and Daniel's love be enough to get him through?

This was previously released but the story has been re-edited and expanded an additional 12k from the original.


Within ten pages I was snuffling -- with a very clear notion of who these people are and how much the world has kicked them around before they found each other, safety, and family, and now all that’s been rocked to its foundations. Soldier and Dillon foster children, giving them the security, stability, and love they need to heal from the atrocities in their pasts. Seventeen-year-old Gom was gay-bashed, and the whole group is worried for him and about what this will mean for their future.

Unfortunately, those sniffles didn’t last. I think I liked the idea of this story better than I liked the execution.

Tommy, who came to Soldier and Dillon's Scarcity Sanctuary when he was twelve, with a really terrible history of abuse, is now twenty-two, graduated from college, and secure enough in himself to be interested in Daniel, whom he knows through Social Services. Daniel’s interested, too, and in the course of solving Gom’s attack and placing another boy with Scarcity Sanctuary, they find they’ve both been nursing years of undeclared love for each other. Most of the relationship development apparently takes place in another book, if at all, because here it's all about whether or not they can manage a satisfying sexual relationship after the "I love you's" fly out early.

No one seems willing to believe that Tommy isn’t totally defined by only his terrible past. Instead of trusting him to have grown up, healed some, and be capable of exploring a relationship at his own pace, everyone, from Daniel to Soldier, keep bringing up his past, in dialog that sounds like therapy sessions. While it was absolutely right that Daniel and Tommy go slow, the bricks of dialog that went with it made their encounters seem very clinical.

“I’m not stopping until you tell me to, but I want this to be a good experience for you, not one that’s filled with confusion and anxiety. The   shivering is just your body responding to your nerves and excitement. At least, I think it’s excitement, if this is anything to go by,” Daniel said, sliding one hand down and caressing the hard ridge in the front of Tommy’s slacks.

There were other passages where it worked much better, such as when Tommy’s exploration of his own boundaries turned out very pleasantly for Daniel, and the dialog with it sounded much more natural. But the overall tone is much more like a therapeutic intervention than newly admitted love unfolding. One unfortunate effect of this particular love issue hit my gag reflex: a thirty-five year old man who’s never had a real relationship admits he’s been waiting for years for an abused kid to grow up and be interested back, and then calls him ‘baby.’ It doesn’t seem quite so unhealthy in the general context of the story, but when considered separately it’s creepy. It was probably supposed to be romantic and “only you for me,” an idea that crops up elsewhere.

Big sections of story, such as resolving Gom’s attack, also suffered from the bricks of dialog/bricks of action problem, and were handled so speedily that it was clear this was the less important issue. Tommy is there for Gom during his recovery, and is one of the better sections of the story. Unfortunately, the one female character in the story was a cardboard harpy whose vitriol level verges on the psychotic.

A note I found while collecting the blurb indicates that the story has had rewrites and expansion, which may explain the pacing problems and the varying smoothness of the different scenes.

So while I think the theme of not being defined by the past and growing into a relationship in spite of the hurdles that past provides is good and worthy, the execution is uneven and occasionally clunky. Some of the sections are considerably better written than others, and it’s too bad the entire piece didn’t maintain the promise of the opening. 3 marbles

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