Author: John Inman
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Cover Artist: Paul Richmond
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Publication Date: 12/07/2015
Length: Novel (~ 50K-100K)
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction, Gay, Gay Fiction, M/M Romance, Paranormal, Winter Holiday
A classic tale takes off in sexy new directions! Poor Mr. Dickens must be twirling in his grave.
When E.B. Scrudge, putz extraordinaire and all-around numbnuts, is visited by his dead ex on Christmas Eve, he can’t imagine how his life could sink any lower. But the three ghostly spirits that come along after are even worse! Good lord, a dyke, a drag queen, and rounding out the trio, a big, hunky bear with nipple rings and a butt plug! What’s next?
What’s next is a good deal of soul-searching and some hard lessons learned with a dash of redemption thrown in for good measure.
And love too, believe it or not. Love that had been simmering all along at the heart of Scrudge’s miserable existence, although he was too selfish to see it—until a trio of holiday beasties pointed his sorry ass in the right direction.
Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is one of my favorite books. It’s a book I’ve read a dozen times over my life (including aloud in a group as a seasonal activity with my church), and one that I know largely by heart. However, I always love to see variations on this story, in different times and with different settings (maybe it was the Mr. Magoo animated version of my childhood that did this, because it was surely the first one I knew).
John Inman’s new gay version of the tale might have fetched five stars from me. Expecting a light-hearted take-off, I was startled by the emotional power and strong writing that took this beloved chestnut and made it completely new and American and “ours.” Dickens’ story of a lonely, mean-spirited London miser becomes the tale of a San Diego insurance executive embittered and isolated by homophobia. Instead of Bob Cratchit, the gentle, put-upon clerk, we have Willie Simpson, the equally put-upon secretary to Mr. Scrudge, who has fallen in love with his boss in spite of the emotional coldness he experiences every day.
Inman has been wonderfully creative in imagining three spirits to guide Scrudge on his Christmas Eve journey to redemption, and he has knitted together a back story for the main character that is appalling in its harsh clarity; it goes a long way to explain how he became the selfish, grasping, cold-hearted man he is. In spite of all of the fantastical activities, there is an odd realism to the narrative, and a cinematic quality to the prose that suggests it would make a great film (as if).
But that fifth star slipped away, for one reason (with two parts). I’m an Inman fan, having given him five-star ratings before, but “Scrudge and Barley, Inc.” suffers from two tropes of the m/m world that Inman would have done well to sidestep in this instance. The cheesy cover kept me from buying the book for weeks. I was expecting some kind of faux-Dickens porn story, and just wasn’t in the mood. Moreover, while I’m not against well written sex scenes in romances, the explicit sex written into the story actually detracts from the impact of the writing, and seems to me to have been put there purely to meet audience expectations. It’s not that I object to the idea that Willie would be having a physical relationship with his unfeeling employer—this is an important plot device. But we really didn’t need to have a detailed description of the tryst. It changes the whole tone of the narrative. Likewise, the flashback sex scene in Scrudge’s past was both essential to the plot and over-detailed. The reader needs to understand these two relationships for what they are; but we don’t need, in this book, graphic details to get the point.
Oh, and I didn’t knock off anything for it, but can we please not refer to sixty-year-old people as “old? Maybe we’re not middle-aged, but we’re not elderly and surely not old. Yet. Willie’s mother is just sixty, and, without revealing plot details, I think her character would have been far more effectively portrayed if her relative youth, not her old-age, had been the focus of her presence in the narrative.
This review is based on a copy purchased by the reviewer independent of any review copies offered.
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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