Author: Bru Baker
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Cover Artist: unknown
Rating: 4.0 of 5 Stars
College sweethearts Frank and Warner have been together for sixteen years, married for eleven. Having grown up in a freewheeling hippie environment, Frank thinks their structured life is great, although lately he and Warner have fallen into a rut. Frank isn’t concerned; it’s what happens to old marrieds. Frank’s blindsided, though, when he finds Warner looking into adopting, and Frank realizes just how not okay things really are.
Frank doesn’t want kids. They bring chaos and unpredictability. He had enough of that growing up. Trying to salvage their relationship, Frank and Warner reach out for help. In the process of marriage counseling and working through their differences, Frank discovers his rigid adherence to schedules, anxiety attacks, and host of personality quirks are actually markers for Asperger Syndrome. With the help of a psychologist, Frank’s life gets easier, and he realizes a future with children isn’t as unfathomable as he once thought.
Through it all, Frank is stunned by how much making a family with Warner has boosted the intimacy between them. It’s taken thirty-five years, but he’s finally got a handle on life, and the future looks even better.
“Playing House” is the third in a series of interconnected but independent novels. Without having read the first two, one can intuit what they are from the presence of the two important but background couples who are Frank and Warner’s friends. But this is Frank Smith and Warner Steven’s story. They’ve been a couple for sixteen years, since they met in college, and have been legally married since it was possible in Oregon. The two men live in a houseboat on the Willamette River in Portland.
In the opening chapters of “Playing House” Baker takes great pains to create a broad, detailed backdrop to her protagonists’ lives. We learn about their jobs, their eating habits, their friends and their families. We go on vacation with them, introducing us to more background on their friends. All of this was pleasant, but left me wondering a bit where this book was going. The narrative is all written from Frank’s point of view, and I found myself having trouble connecting with him as a character. He is prickly, rather unyielding emotionally, and a bit rigid in his behavior and his habits. I couldn’t warm up to him.
And then I found out why.
Baker’s careful buildup of Frank and Warner’s scenario is, in retrospect, entirely calculated. The crisis that triggers the major narrative arc of the novel seems as minor as Frank’s over-reaction to it seems hysterical. Then, as Baker finally begins to elaborate the plot, revealing some essential truths to us, our understanding shifts, and the story blossoms with an emotional richness carefully withheld by the author until she felt it was right.
This is not a regular romance. These guys, although young still, are an old couple—particularly by M/M standards. How nice to have a book that looks at the long-term for happily ever after. How refreshing to have a romance novelist explore what it is that keeps a couple together after the honeymoon is over.
By the highly-charged end of the story I loved these men, and it is a testimony to the skill of Bru Baker that I identified as much with Frank as with Warner. I don’t want to spoil this story at all (I’m sure other reviews will not be so careful); but suffice it to say that Baker has a personal investment in this novel that infuses her writing with authenticity.
And, in the interest of full disclosure, there is an uncanny parallel for me here, as well. Although Frank and Warner are young enough to be my sons, I, too met my husband in college. And it was also after sixteen years together, in our mid-thirties, long after our honeymoon was over, that a casual remark by a neighbor ended up changing our lives forever. So, while Frank and Warner’s story is not my husband’s and my story, there are enough parallels that I can attest to Baker’s gift at portraying mature, complicated relationships.
This is not a story of hot twinks falling in love in the face of insurmountable odds. It is, however, the story of the endurance of love and the partnership of marriage in a world where the highest hurdles are sometimes of our own creation.
I would like to thank the publisher for providing me with the eARC of this title in exchange for my honest opinion.
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
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