Author: Robert Winter
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Cover Artist: Catt Ford
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Publication Date: 12/09/2016
Length: Novel (~ 50K-100K)
Genre: Contemporary, Drama, Fiction, Gay, Gay Fiction
David James is smart, successful, handsome… and alone. After the death of his lover, Kyle, from cancer, he buried himself in his law practice and the gym. At forty-eight, he is haunted by his memories and walled off from the world. When David injures himself working out, he’s assigned to Brandon Smith for physical therapy. The vibrant young therapist is attracted to David and realizes he needs a hand to get back into dating. What begins as a practice coffee date escalates to friendship, passion, and maybe something more, as they navigate a new relationship in Washington, DC, and the gay mecca of Provincetown.
But David remains trapped behind the barrier of fear and guilt. Will he remain loyal to Kyle’s memory if he moves on? Can he and Brandon manage a twenty-two-year age gap? Brandon thinks he understands David’s concerns, and for him, the answer to those questions is yes. He wants to be with David, and he believes he can overcome David’s barriers. But Brandon fails to account for the world’s reaction to a handsome young man attached to an older, wealthy lover. David’s memories, Brandon’s pride, and an unexpected tragedy might cost them something very special.
We get both Brandon and David’s points of view in this story and the tone of the storytelling subtly and beautifully changes with each. They and the supporting characters were winning me over early on in this read, and that carried on all the way through.
Winter’s writing is engaging, smooth, and realistic, and all are qualities that also maintain throughout. The style of language used by the characters is modern but relaxed, making the conversations feel natural, not contrived. From the get go, familiarity was settling in. I was listening to friends teasing and laughing and disagreeing and thinking, not characters on a two-dimensional page. Their conversations reflect how real people talk, and demonstrate that these <i>can</i> be written in interesting, energetic, and emotional ways that also provide progress in plot and character development.
David intrigued me pretty much right away which, given the circumstances as the story opens, I guess is expected. But it takes a good storyteller to entice my early emotional investment and Winter does this, making sure to tug me along with David and his struggles. Further, I like that his friends don’t let him off the hook.
Q: Joe gently rested a hand on David’s. “My dear, you must give the world time. Another generation, and no one will remember what the protests were about. Love always wins.”
David smiled fondly. “Joe, your optimism is even more charming than your fashion sense.” /Q
Joe and Terry, together many a year and recently married, are some of the first supporting characters we meet. I can’t help it, I love them. Meeting them this far into their relationship, it allows them to do and say things that many others could not, especially concerning their dear friend, David. These are the kinds of friends that make us feel grateful and joyous on a neverending scale. I want Joe and Terry’s story. Jussayin’. Their bliss is long-lived and hard earned.
Brandon is at that age of trying to get adult life situated, allowing maturity to shine through despite and alongside the challenges. Also, he’s a smartass and I wholeheartedly approve and appreciate. Unknowingly, as things move along, he also doesn’t permit David to hide within himself and disconnect. Well, he tries anyway. Brandon is dealing with his own difficulties and annoyances, in the forms of family and friends. His friends are pretty clear in their individual agendas, or lack thereof. One can’t help but be a jerk, and another admits his feelings for Brandon but also does right by him and their friendship. This provides a couple of the most emotional scenes in the book for me.
David, moreso than Brandon, sometimes comes off as selfish and unaware of the feelings of others, especially Brandon’s. However, for me, just because a character behaves in a “negative” way doesn’t at all mean the book or my experience reading it is negative. I don’t want perfect, gimme someone to wrinkle my nose at sometimes. It’s real and complicated and messy and often leads the way towards emotionally satisfying payoffs.
The chemistry between David and Brandon is something else that’s apparent from the beginning. Their physical interactions provide them with a platform on which to better work out the emotional layers they’re working through, both as individuals and then as two attempting to go through life as one. They just don’t always realize that’s what’s happening. This part of their getting to know one another and deepening connection down the line also feels real full of detail to back it up. So well done.
Winter does well in surprising, going down the unexpected path in terms of actions and reactions by both Brandon and David. Just like so much of this story, they are realistic in their randomness and truth. Additionally, both characters experience progress and setbacks, with neither happiness or success guaranteed, especially without some work. The moments of uncertainty they each go through are all too familiar.
There are times when the writing starts to get too saccharine, the exchanges overly sentimental. A few times, we wander into soap opera land, both in tone and the speed with which Brandon and David overcome an obstacle. I will say, though, a couple of these instances are backed up by sudden realizations by the characters, especially Brandon. David on the other hand, lawdy, he took his sweet ol’ time in coming to many a conclusion about some things. He also is trying to anticipate, aka assume, Brandon’s thoughts and feelings. I absolutely understand why he’s doing it, I feel it, trying to protect himself while simultaneously open himself up to this undeniable connection to Brandon. I think Brandon gets it, too, so he takes a stand, not wanting to give up. Brandon is one smart cookie.
That last point is the reason why the one thing that bothered me the most bothered me just that much. Brandon was all too quick to sacrifice himself by apologizing for having natural reactions to David’s stubbornness and his being slow to realize, even after multiple occasions when he was given the proof of Brandon’s sincerity, and David “forgiving” Brandon for these non-transgressions. Those moments felt out of sync with Brandon’s character and the story, and I couldn’t figure out what they were meant to convey beyond the obvious which felt wrong, especially since emotions are so honestly expressed in the rest of the story.
On the flipside, the portrayal of David’s journey through grief feels unique to him, making me feel what I usually feel while reading: judging him for his imperfections works against the story and his ability to progress. The confusion, the conflicting emotions, the doubt that all live inside grief are here. As are the emergence of joy, the surprise of laughter, and the fear that the hope he feels isn’t real and will disappear on the next breath. Brandon might be the thread to start tying it all together for the better, and for the future. And David might be the one to remove the weights Brandon is carrying around, impeding on his.
Q: You take nothing away from your time with Kyle by opening yourself up to another man… /Q
The love within the willingness of accepting a gift… sometimes it does take strength, often cropping up when least expected. It feels like these two are well on their way to succeeding in realizing this and living it every day.
I will most assuredly be reading Robert Winter stories in the future, and I’m looking forward to them. 🙂
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.
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