Monday, August 20, 2012

The Wrong Impression by James Ryder

Title: The Wrong Impression
Author: James Ryder
Cover Artist: Reese Dante
Publisher: Silver
Genre: Contemporary
Length: 12,300 words

Ben Garrett might have got it wrong about his former High School bully, Corey Donovan, who now regrets the past and wants to be friends. But when sexual attraction shatters their tentative truce, Ben wonders if the wrong impression might have been the right one after all.

Getting roped into writing essays for his former High School bully is the last thing Ben Garrett anticipated doing at college. Corey Donovan is an arrogant, privileged jock. And to make matters worse, he's hot as hell!

To Ben's surprise however Corey wants to be friends...and possibly more? Corey's killer smile and charismatic seduction is impossible to resist. Did Ben get it wrong about Corey? After all, people change, don't they?

But their night of passion comes at a high price. Corey is nowhere to be found and Ben might just have landed himself in a whole lot of trouble with Corey's homophobic frat brother, Teddy Hayman. Was Ben's wrong impression the right one all along?


The set-up looks like it ought to be good for an enemies-to-lovers story, and it probably would, with different handling. Unfortunately, the one shred of decent behavior in this entire book doesn’t kick the co-existence level anywhere that high.

From the opening scene where Max manipulates his buddy Ben into writing the newly transferred jock Corey’s essays (for a fee, of course) so that he can get into a social group that would otherwise reject him, the ethically questionable behaviors come hard and fast. While each action individually is somewhat understandable, given the pressures to fit in and make friends, the aggregate is a peek into a cesspool.

So what if Corey’s hot? That lasts until he opens his mouth, and Ben has two years of physical assaults and bullying at Corey’s hands to temper his physical reaction, not that it helps. Perhaps a college age man is more led by his cock than most, but the sight of Corey’s body during a condom run in an interlude with a slutty cheerleader (author’s term) is enough to turn Ben’s larger head off in spite of the horrible history between them.

The blurb promises friendship on Corey’s side, but that isn’t the case. More using/self-centered behavior is closer to the mark, and all Ben’s ruminations with his friends don’t let him see that. The dirtbag behavior hasn’t escalated to manhandling, but Corey isn’t treating Ben decently this time around either, and his apology for the past didn’t even begin to acknowledge the depth of his offences, though it might have been adequate for accidentally stepping on toes. Charismatic seduction? Don’t think so: this is crude come-on.

So why is Ben hoping for more, a lot more? When he gets it plus some more ill-treatment, he retaliates with the only weapon he has, which lets him meet face-to-fist with Corey’s team- mate Teddy the homophobe. What follows is the only moment of decent behavior in this entire tale.

It’s a mess of a story when the only character who has convictions of any strength is the bad guy of the piece, in this case, Teddy. He’s a homophobic horror, but he’s consistent. Max is out for himself, Ben is delusional, a doormat, and intellectually dishonest. Corey depends on getting away with anything short of murder because he’s a jock and model-handsome to boot, and the world (including Ben) isn’t even trying to convince him it might not always work that way. I hated every single one of these characters and everything they did by halfway in, to a degree that was unrecoverable.

The ending had some reassurance that these were supposed to be thinking beings rather than cardboard cut-outs with no moral compasses, but it was much too little, far too late. Very likely each and every one of the behaviors outlined here has happened on campuses everywhere, but the display en mass is a cautionary tale of the bad behavior of humans, not romantic. The revelations are supposed to make up for everything but I’m not convinced. 1.5 stars

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