Author: Doug Lloyd
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Cover Artist: Reese Dante
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Paul Nelson, a military veteran home from Korea, refuses to stand by and watch Kenneth Pittman, a young man he’s just met, get beat up by a group of teens. After a few chance encounters with Kenneth, Paul questions parts of his identity he’s been trying to suppress, and despite his struggles re-acclimating to civilian life and his personal fears, Paul finds the courage to ask Kenneth on a date. The two then begin a relationship.
But in the 1950s, cultural and societal norms threaten openly gay men. Paul and Kenneth can only see each other in secret, and Paul’s new boss, a former investigative journalist and proud bigot, has a habit of meddling in his employees’ lives. After tragedy strikes close to home, the two men question whether their slice of happiness is worth the trouble or if safety is more important.
After vacationing together in Provincetown, a gay haven, to escape the chaos, they decide to stick it out, only to return to the consequences of being outed to everyone they know. Ultimately, Paul realizes the freedom he fought for should apply to them too, and he must bravely act in defiance of society’s expectations to be with the man he loves.
Doug Lloyd wonderfully set up this story, introducing Paul Nelson, telling me so much in the first two pages without feeling muddled or bogged down in detail. I was already curious, having been grabbed by the time in which this story takes place, which is 1952. Actually, grabbed is not the right word. It was like he invited me to take a seat on a bench, warmed by the sunshine, and told me he had this story he wanted to tell.
Paul and his younger brother Dave have been through a lot in the last eighteen months, yet their relationship maintains its anchoring ability. They’re respectful of each other, supportive, and they definitely make sure to engage in the kind of ribbing that brothers do.
Without being overwrought or heavy-handed, Lloyd realistically portrays Paul and how it was for so many soldiers returning from the early years of the Korean conflict, especially after a year and a half deployed. The difficulty in finding work, trying to live in the present while constantly tugged backwards into the past, feeling like you’ve moved beyond or onto a different path than most of your friends, all of them challenges Paul wanted to overcome. Above all else, he’s survived war, fighting for freedom overseas but not given that same freedom in which to live when he’s home.
There’s an understated power in Lloyd’s storytelling. Nothing bombastic or overly dramatic, but there’s no mistaking his confidence and the story he wants to tell.
Coupled with that low hum of power is an unavoidable and unsurprising layer of sadness, mixed with frustration. Lies. The need to lie in order to avoid unearned violence and unfairness, in order to survive, all in effort to gain some much deserved happiness, to feel whole and alive, it informs so many decisions. It’s funny, knowing what I do now, having read the entire story, I really should have put two and two together. Kinda cool that I didn’t, though. I went along with it all.
One of my own initial reactions was interesting and caused a slight head tilt, at myself. One of the supporting characters in this story provides some unexpected assistance – covering for Paul, not telling people about him and Kenneth – and I asked myself, would that have really happened? But, of course, it would have, and it did. All throughout the history of us human types, there have always been those who helped, who cared, who tried to ease the fear, danger, and stress from having to be secretive about the truth. There have always been people like me, and you. People who knew what felt right and acted upon that feeling. The characters themselves have a few similar, if brief, conversations about this very thing.
There were points where the story wandered pointedly (is that an oxymoron? LOL) into the political. It’s probably unavoidable having been written now, surrounded by the particular politics of our time. However, if this hadn’t been included, the story would have lacked some believability. Too heavy on reality? I honestly couldn’t decide. I think this is one of those things intended to make us ponder.
Kenneth, the man Paul meets as soon as he’s arrived home, and his motivations are slowly unfurled, his history and experiences quite different than Paul’s. Then again, there are some things they have in common as if they’d been walking down the same street together all of the years before they even laid eyes on each other. When they do begin to experience life together, they have some understandably different reactions. It was beautiful to experience. They have chemistry, they struggle with accepting themselves and each other, wavering and then surging forward. Their collective confidence and strength grow as time goes on.
There were some parts that would have benefitted from more development and time spent. Several scenes and payoffs were undercut by the swift movement of the story, almost leaving them behind. I was left with questions, wondering how one character reacted, what would the conversation had been like, what happened next?
At barely half way through this book, I stopped taking notes. I was inside this world, this neighborhood, loving some characters and wanting to grrrrrrrrr at others, needing to see how things were going to turn out. I gotta say, I think I’m kinda blown away. The ending was both a gut-punch and threatened to explode my heart with happiness.
I recommend this book and I recommend this author. I hope he writes more. I’ll read it.
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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