Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Playing Around by Ingela Bohm

Title: Just Playing
Author: Ingela Bohm
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Cover Artist:  unknown
Genre:  recent historical
Length: 98k, approximately 315 pages
Formats:  epub, mobi

Michael and Jamie seem fated to make music together. But the thrill of playing soon turns into something more, something neither of the young men can handle. Unable to just stay friends, their only option may be to avoid each other completely. But when things start moving for Jamie's band, a decision has to be made: either this is goodbye, or they risk everything and let Michael join.

~*~*~*~*

I both enjoyed this book and was irritated by it. Michael and Jamie come together as teens and explore their sexuality together while simultaneously trying to deny the hell out of it. It’s 1975, and gay as an idea hasn’t ever been part of their world until they find themselves touching and running, and touching again.

First off, the language is beautiful. It's textured and poetic, sometimes surprising.

However, all the gorgeous imagery and the lovely language are here in great oversupply. The book is huge and doesn’t resolve the couple—that’s for the second in the series, which I knew going in. The trouble is that the pacing of the story and the development of the characters is slow, slow, slow.

The story is not well anchored in time in the beginning. Hints of period show in the mention of Moody Blues songs as if they were new, but are contradicted by out of period slang, and it isn’t until 1975 is explicitly mentioned do we know for sure when we are. At that point it becomes easier to cope with the main characters’ denial of their sexuality, since circle jerks are “just what guys do” and gayness has nothing to do with them.

Close to 100,000 words doesn’t change this initial condition as much as I expected.

Jamie and Michael come together over a mutual interest in music, and from working together, they have opportunities to come closer. Michael has no self-confidence in his playing or his voice, and Jamie can prop him up only so far. When trouble between them has Michael backing away from his music in a very tangible way, the scene did make my heart hurt. When he’s sucked into the fledgling success of a band Jamie’s in, he still has no self confidence, and he never does get any. Nor does he have a lick of sense: if the band depends on him recovering his bass playing chops, you’d think he’d practice.

So, the external plot doesn’t advance, because they aren’t doing much to advance it.

The romance arc advances in spots, only to be dragged back, because these guys don’t talk. The excuse “It’s 1975” only flies so far when one character is drinking himself to extinction and they all act like David Bowie never existed. If Michael’s fey and beautiful, he’s in an era where flashy androgyny has precedent and makes bank. (Ziggy Stardust came out in 1972.) These guys don’t talk to the point where Jamie can write a love letter and then Michael reads it and completely disregards it, preferring to ache silently and moon over Jamie and worry that Jamie doesn’t reciprocate his feelings.

One scene I had real hopes for was the party scene: several things happened that showed promise for plot advancement, and then—gone. I actually snarled at my Kindle there.

The whole book is like this: something happens that should advance the romance or make the characters grow, and then nothing come of it. They have to fight for the same bit of advancement two and three times over, and the book is bloated for the repetition. Every single scene needs to do something to grow the characters or advance some part of the plot, and every scene is three steps forward and two and three quarters steps back. Sometimes three steps back. It’s extremely frustrating, because it is all written in language that flows beautifully. This disguises how little actually changes.

They do have sex, though, and promptly deny it, or ignore it or tell themselves comforting lies about it, and then do it again and deny it again. And again.

There is enough actual story in here to support about half the current word count. All the words are beautiful, but the substance of story is change and growth. 2.75 marbles


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