Author: John Wiltshire
Publisher: MLR Press
Cover Artist: Molly Wright
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Publication Date: 08/12/2016
Length: Novel (~ 50K-100K)
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction, Gay, Gay Fiction
Rory McGrath suffers from a debilitating condition—he caught it from reading too many books. Rory believes in true love. He’s saving himself until he finds it, preferably with Mr Darcy, but definitely not with the arrogant, unpleasant ape Adam Sandstone. Adam isn’t impressed with Rory either. Both Rory and Adam have yet to learn, however, that you cannot always judge a book by its cover. The nine other members of the new club could have told them this, had they been consulted. The founders of the Buckland-in-the-Vale and Sandstone Tor Gay Book Club know only too well that not all truths are written in books. Truth, like life, is what you make of it.
Rory saw the handwritten sign posted on the village hall notice board as he flew silently past on his bicycle at the end of the first day of the new autumn term. It was his favorite part of the ride home, coming off the moor with its seductive scents of bracken and dung, down into the pitch dark of the green tunnel lane that wound through the tiny Devon village of Buckland-in-the-Vale.
Opening paragraph and I was already grinning. Talk about setting the scene and the tone from the git go. This follows through most of this story, with the fun references, the character motivations, being the 100% completely built characters they are, in a tiny village in Cornwall. We’re introduced to most of these people one by one, including those involved in the event alluded to in the title of this amusing yarn.
Also from the git go is the battle between my chuckling on page after page and the obvious shade being tossed towards women and anyone with an ounce of fat, which, according to the main character Adam, automatically assumes they’re unhealthy and therefore unworthy. He doesn’t use those words but those are clearly the feelings he has. More on this later.
I’m not kidding when I say I was chuckling and giggling at these sweet, caring people who so obviously want nothing but the best for their neighbors and friends, despite some of their own inner thoughts. Well, except for those neighbors who might slightly annoy you from time to time. But yeah, even them. The fact that they know each other, their family histories, so well translates into that deep level of care, as well as the ability to lay on the snark, show their true colors, no matter how muddy, and feel they have license to interfere in each others’ goings on.
A number of the tropes found within many of the books floating around the romance world, and the stereotypes often attributed to those who read them, are used as points of said snark. The tropes are true, while most of the stereotypes unfair. However, one of them is utterly on point: simply because one reads books doesn’t mean one then possesses a vast vat of knowledge about gay men (in this particular case) and what they feel and why. There are no points awarded for reading books. And there are certainly no rewards given for then using said reading of these books as proof of that vast vat, especially while simultaneously treating gay men as items to collect and crow over with pride, and proof of said support. People aren’t things to be set on shelves and highlighted as demonstrations of one’s enlightened state and entrance into some nonexistent club.
Yup, I said it. And Wiltshire wrote it. And it’s all wrapped up in a truly sweet, loving, humorous tale about folks in a tiny village living their lives together and loving each other, sometimes in their own special ways.
Let’s get back to those things, shall we? Because they are plentiful and there’s no denying these truths: I chuckled, giggled, and cackled (this bared repeating because, holy funny bone, Batman, I snortled); I understood and felt most of the emotions of these wonderfully fleshed out characters; and I loved the multiple pokings of the stick at the aforementioned tropes. It was so easy to picture, hear, feel every scene, what was happening and where. I felt those connections, even to the characters I didn’t necessarily want to do so. This is especially true of Adam. There are two ‘a-ha’ moments that do inform a good amount about his personality, letting things slide into place and allowing for empathy on my part. This doesn’t apply, however, to the dislike/suspicion/disdain (one? all of?) for women (which is a contradiction given the way some of the old Dears are portrayed, while others do in fact prove this point), and anyone who carries an amount of fat on their bodies. Both of these things are brought up more than once during the times we get Adam’s view of current happenings. Do these things fit the character? Maybe. Did they toss me right out of the story, especially after multiple times? Yep. For anyone who reads this and experiences the same, I understand. By the same token, I’m also more than strong enough to slough off any misogynistic and shallow digs at women, and anyone who isn’t a walking set of svelte muscles. More than anger or sadness, I felt bad for Adam that he walks around with these feelings.
As I said, though, there’s no denying the enjoyment I experienced while reading this. Wiltshire’s humor is spot on and Rory is one of the most interesting people, as is Gert, and Brian (Adam’s father), and Charles, and many of the other supporting characters, including the dog. Yep, there’s a dog. 😉
This is not heavy on romance between Rory and Adam. They have their (mostly interrupted) sex scenes, but most of their time is spent trying to figure each other out, sometimes failing, and deciding whether they do in fact belong together. The jury’s still out, but I liked watching them play the first few minutes of what could be a lifelong match. They’re surrounded by many people who wish to see them happy, together, and I liked watching them try to make it happen, too.
On a technical note: I’m pretty sure the copy I bought was missing a few alternating pages at the end. Anyone else experience that? I got the gist, but happening at the end of the story wasn’t great timing.
This review is based on a copy purchased by the reviewer independent of any review copies offered.
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