Author: John Wiltshire
Publisher: MLR Press
Cover Artist: Molly Wright
Rating: 4.5 of 5 Stars
Publication Date: 01/15/2016
Length: Novel (~ 50K-100K)
Genre: Contemporary, Drama, Fiction, Gay, Gay Fiction
Named after the main character in his mother’s infamous Oliver novels, Ollie’s been fighting his fictional namesake his whole life. It’s a battle for identity he is slowly and inevitably losing. Ex-army PTI Tom knows all about battles—the real ones that break soldiers. When he volunteers to help with the Oliver situation, Ollie hears more in the offer than Tom apparently intends, for Tom quickly informs Ollie that he’s married. Which is absolutely fine, because Ollie isn’t gay—that’s Oliver. Tom and Ollie discover fairly swiftly that there is often a very fine dividing line between fact and fiction.
Ollie. Always. And Tom. With tea and shortbread biscuits. These two, their personalities erected brick by brick, with humor, and pasts and many other things that intrigued me, all made me want to get to know them. Mission accomplished in getting me interested in this story from page one.
Despite both the main characters holding things close to their respective vests, I felt the heart of this story, right there out in the open, ready to be experienced, willing to share itself. The cool thing about this, despite the obvious, is that the depth of characterization was also held at a distance, slowly but surely revealed as the story began to unfurl. There was so much more going on here than initially indicated. It got me energized.
Ollie is living life from a very painful place as this story opens and, based upon what we learn, it’s not a surprise and it informs a lot of his decisions, as well as explaining his way of thinking. He’s endured, suffered, and survived a lot in his 25 years on this planet, and I understood the coping mechanisms he’d put in place to handle life. (~more on this later) These two lines efficiently describe his state of mind, much better than I just did.
Ollie had been coming here during the long school holidays since he’d started at his prep school, so if he’d wanted to, he could have thought of it as home. Nowhere was home, so he didn’t.
The “here” is New Zealand, and prep school was a number of years ago but that experience shaped much of his emotional state of mind from an early age. On the outside Ollie appears to be living life on his own terms. On the inside, that’s not the case. Tom might be the first person to be seeing this truth of Ollie’s. This truth is a constant connection maintained throughout the story, even in the worst moments. And I am fortunate to have gotten the chance to witness this journey of theirs as they try to work through it all
As usual, Wiltshire incorporates a twist or ten in this story like he’s done in many other of his books I’ve read. The first one is rather a doozy, opening many doors, to the past, to the future, and to the possibilities that might exist. The scope of my comprehension of this story expanded and left me pondering many a ‘what if?’. These two people were going to make each other work for this potential friendship (and more? I wasn’t at all sure) and their truths. It looked like they were going to discover that neither of them had adequate defenses against each one’s ability to break through to the other.
I could have highlighted all of chapter nine. Just to give you an idea of how many tendrils are swirling around beneath the surface nearly the entire way through this book. Jussayin’.
~ here’s the more: practically unbeknownst to himself, Ollie is wide open for love, for connection, for exploration and emotional bravery, and he’s been searching for that unconditional consideration that is for him, not a character in a book that is a poor reflection of what others see in Ollie. Further, he and Tom have all of this in common, but originating from a completely different life as lived so far. How do I know this? Because of Wiltshire and his fabulocity with the emotional twisty turns that made my mouth drop open and my heart leap into the stratosphere.
There are some scenes that were muddy in their structure and intention, feeling underdeveloped or uncertain in their purpose. There were also some instances where it almost felt like I was getting Tom’s point of view, his feelings about whatever was going on, which isn’t really possible since this story is told as Ollie’s experience, alongside his footsteps, his demons and revelations. I think it came down to odd sentence structure, causing a head tilt here and there.
But listen, this story. ~ takes a deep breath ~ it got me. It’s gutwrenchingly real with passages that felt almost dreamlike, ethereal while delivering undeniably earthbound emotional punches. Ya know, right to that gut. No matter any stumbling blocks along the way, this is unmistakable Wiltshire storytelling with the surprises, the depth of emotion (I know, I keep using this word, but there is a lot of it in this book), the connections that come barreling around their corners and knocked me over, performing literary 360’s like a pro thrasher. I love when I have to work for my stories and to understand the characters. I don’t like being spoonfed and Wiltshire doesn’t engage in such tomfoolery.
He gives us gems like this:
He hadn’t had to return, but he’d wanted to. Being brave, he’d discovered, wasn’t all about looking forward and facing challenges head on. It was also about checking back and making sure that those behind you fared well too. Never leave stragglers. Never cause collateral damage. He needed to finish with New Zealand properly and bury the ghosts of his abortive attempt to find a world big enough to escape cowardice. No world that big would ever exist.
Letmejusttellyou, not long after this thought process of Ollie’s, I experienced one of the swooniest swoony swoon worthy lines of prose I’ve ever read. Ever. I actually felt a bit lightheaded due to the lack of oxygen from the swoonage. Wiltshire, he’s a romantic! My proof is this book. I mean, before I read the line, which I know you’ll know which one I mean when you read this book, I was going to say this story isn’t a romance. But it is. It’s just not conventional. What I’m really saying here is this is (unfortunately) unconventional for the literary world but couldn’t be more tried and true for the real world: love is messy, the past providing companionship into any new encounter, any new relationship, working hard to try and protect the heart, attempting to deny a starting chance. This is the journey on which Ollie and Tom find themselves.
Ok, I could keep going on and on and on. I need a book club for this one. Book club anyone?
I wana talk about the stuff and the things, all the things, and the title, and the omg and…
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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