Author: S.A. Garcia
Cover Artist: Paul Richmond
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Length: 284 pages
Rating: 3 stars out of 5
When it comes to his professional life, photographer Carl Conrad is at the top of his game. He molds impressionable minds at the university by day and jets off to Paris for gallery showings on long weekends. Unfortunately, he pays for it with his disastrous personal life: Carl kicked his boyfriend to the curb after one too many punches, so now it’s just him and his hamsters, one of which he suspects may be a space alien.
Then Cupid takes pity on Carl and hits him where it hurts. It takes Carl all of three seconds to fall head over heels in lust with set design student Marcelino Moya, despite the man’s questionable—okay, deplorable—fashion sense. Convincing Marcelino to give him a chance is the hard part, but Carl is up for the challenge, pun definitely intended.
Marcelino plays hard to get, but he isn’t immune to Carl’s charms. Carl talks him around to dinner, dating, and eventually moving in. There’s just one tiny word standing between Carl and perfect happiness. Why won’t Marcelino say it?
It is marginally possible that I did not approach this novel with the right mind-set. I am willing to be beguiled with language and scenarios that dance from witticism to feyness, but when it comes on top of the MC, Carl, discussing how traumatized he is by hearing from his abusive ex lover, I will admit to having some trouble shifting gears. It seems that the bruises haven’t quite faded from the most recent incident, but this is left vague enough that friends are urging Carl to move on. Which he does, about seven and a half minutes after the words are out of the friend’s mouth. With a student.
Carl is the only POV character—an extremely talented artist, willing to take refuge in pot smoke and too much wine rather than treat anything seriously, and taking a while to acknowledge that he might have to learn from his mistakes. What touches his surface stays on his surface, and takes a long time to penetrate to the depths where it might do some good. Describing himself as “an old hippie” is part and parcel of his over the top persona, much more flamboyant than most m/m romance characters. At thirty-six he feels old and decrepit, whining about the aches and pains of yoga and wild sex. Perhaps in his universe he is old and decrepit—Carl and his friends trade vicious jabs about aging and creeping unattractiveness, and how disadvantaged a geezer of 36 is with a lover of 24.
Marcelino, an Argentine transplant with eye-searing fashion sense, takes Carl’s photography class and Carl is immediately smitten with everything from his facial hair to his nipple jewelry, and is quite sure that this is love. Cupid is personified, as are Carl’s other advisors Lust and Common Sense, who all take turns advising him. It swings between funny and creepy, mostly because poor Common Sense loses so often, starting with the instance early in the book where Carl hijacks Marcelino off the dance floor and begs him to move in.
This novel has to be described as character driven, and if there is growth in character, it might *possibly* be Carl’s evolution from the frenzy of infatuation to a deeper affection. Marcel (as he asks Carl to call him) is slower to warm up and while he moves in relatively early in the book, he keeps his feelings more to himself, until he explodes all over the page with his fears, past, and concerns, most of which go unhinted throughout the book. The external plot is primarily slice of life, a series of incidents that draw reactions from “That’s nice” all the way to “WTF are you thinking?” and including jealous spats, followed by make-up sex. Most everything that happens is followed by sex. Or is sex. There’s lots and lots of sex.
The abusive ex subplot is the most definite plot arc—Carl does shove him away every time he shows up, but the manipulation continues—ex pushes for forgiveness he hasn’t earned and Carl acquiesces. Marcel has a certain overlap with the ex, but a very different execution.
My lack of connection with Carl, whom I perceived as the self-absorbed creature who never shuts up, really got in the way of enjoying whatever character growth there might be. At one point he compares himself to a “Jack Russell terrier on puppy uppers,” and his incessant inner monologue and flamboyant manners made that apt. You’d think an “old hippie” might relax while stoned or drunk, but no.
Carl’s mental state can be tracked by his waterfall of words—he never uses one when a paragraph will do, and there’s a huge amount of alliteration, which either calms down as the book progresses, or I stopped noticing out of self-defense. The highly dramatic tone maintains throughout the story.
I indulged in a quick muscleman pose and laughed. Relentless sit-ups and yoga had created almost tight abdominal muscles. My insecurity reasoned that if I chased fresh cream like Marcelino, I needed to roam in the same zip code as perfection. Fine, at least I needed to occupy the same county.
My silly debate over my party outfit gave me a headache. When had a critical tween seized my senses? OMG, like, I have nothing to weeeaaaaarrr!While I ended the story wishing the couple well, I had a hard time staying invested in them because of tone and style issues, and because the growth issues are so subtle that I ask myself if I’m imagining them. 3 marbles