Saturday, April 13, 2013

Gay as Mardi Gras by Lily Velden

GayAsMardiGrasLGTitle: Gay As Mardi Gras
Author: Lily Velden
Cover Artist: Lily Velden
Publisher: Dreamspinner
Genre: Contemporary
Length: 77 pages

After the demise of his relationship with his childhood sweetheart, Janey, Jesse needs to get away. His nan has just the thing: a month-long cruise around Hawaii and the Pacific Islands. It seems perfect—until Jesse realizes what kind of cruise it is.

A gay cruise.

Since Jesse’s roommate, Daniel, is recovering from a broken heart, the two decide to buddy up. They hit it off, and with Daniel now Jesse's partner in crime, they explore the boat and participate in all the fun activities on offer—with some, ah, interesting results for straight boy Jesse.

This story was off to a rocky start—some things do not cross multigenerational barriers well. I was aghast at the beginning, where ultra-accepting Nan not only thinks about the MC’s sex life, she tells him what it is, and meddles in it. This woman is a combination of loving grandmother and Intrusive Female Best Friend with Inappropriate Curiosity. She’d probably be fun if I could get past that shrill NONONONONO! in my mind for the opening 10% of the story where she’s front and center. But I can’t. Others might.

Leaving this chimera behind, we follow MC Jesse on board ship, where he puts two and two together about its gay-centricity, and is relieved to discover that his ship-assigned cabin mate Daniel is a nice guy with troubles of his own, who needs a friend to cover his back. What unfolds is their discovery of one another and Jesse’s reluctant acceptance that he is indeed gay.

The unfolding of this is slow—Daniel doesn’t push, and Jesse needs that whole month to reevaluate. It’s done sweetly and charmingly. Friendship develops first, then a relationship that includes sex. In places it’s a little cloying—their tastes in books, music, and careers have enormous overlap and their disagreements are so minor as to merit less than a paragraph. Daniel is a bit of a cipher, more a mirror to Jesse than a character in his own right. His main role is to reassure Jesse that what he wants is okay; at no time does he particularly assert his desires, even regarding non-sexual issues. All conflict is within Jesse’s head.

The story is told in first person, present tense, which suits Jesse’s “all about the now” mentality, though the mentality may reflect use of the present tense rather than being a deliberate choice. In moments of passion, there are long strings of single-sentence paragraphs, a conceit which could have been dialed back a bit.

Jesse’s reminiscences about his former long term girlfriend appear here and there to contrast her to Daniel, and to the author’s credit, Jesse recalls her fondly, if without passion. The cruise, a month long and an exciting adventure, one would think, is seen mostly as endless food and costume parties. It could have been anywhere on the seven seas for all the tropical anything we’re shown. The ship is scarcely more vivid: we don’t even know if they have a cabin with a porthole or not.

Daniel’s essential flatness made me question if this was converted fanfic; by the author’s admission it is, and in a fandom whose canon I don’t care for. Jesse is more completely drawn, ie I could identify the base canon character. When the author can offer two original MCs alive on the page, I will be happy to read more of her work.

The story was worth reading to follow Jesse’s self-discovery, not only regarding his gayness, but regarding his own stereotyped ideas and misconceptions, though it would be well boosted by a brighter spotlight on other elements of the story. The scenes where most development takes place involve sex. One sex scene contained a humorous oops, but morphed into an inappropriately zipless fuck.

If you don’t expect more than the turmoil inside Jesse’s head, it’s a cute read. 3.25 marbles

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