Guest Review by Sammy
Buy Link: A Life Without You
Author: Erica Pike
Publisher: MLR Press
Length: Novel

Rating: 3.75 stars

A Life Without You explores the dynamic between an openly gay college student and his deeply closeted roommate with real honesty and compassion. The story begins with Adam nestled next to his roommate Jesse whom he has slowly begun to harbor a crush over. The only problem is that Jesse is straight; not only that, but engaged to be married as well. Jesse has no idea that the man he has passed out beside is actually gay, for Adam, in his fear of losing a roommate who had come to mean so much to him, had failed to tell Jesse the truth.

Within pages of the start of this novel, Adam reveals the truth and the awkwardness that often can bloom between two men whom embrace different lifestyles surfaces. And here is where A Life Without You begins its most interesting twist and turn…for Jesse begins to find himself drawn to Adam as well. Over the course of their normal routines, from going to class, to playing a game of pickup basketball, the two young men feel themselves and the barrier that Adam’s declaration had erected begin to fall, full tilt, hopelessly in lust, and then love. While their relationship takes a decidedly physical turn, and their friendship deepens, only one of them is willing to acknowledge exactly what is happening. And so, we watch as Adam slowly falls desperately in love with Jesse, who all the while maintains that he is merely bisexual and will, one day, marry his fiancée, Anne.

This story has a host of side characters, a small group of gay men who continually cross the line from friendship to sexual partners and back again. The most notable is Adam’s study buddy and flamingly gay friend Eric. His brash and simultaneously abrasive honesty about his lifestyle serve as a perfect foil to Adam’s more conservative and quiet character. We are introduced to Eric’s circle of friends, all of who seem to have slept with one another at some point and continue to do so with alarming ease. It was here with the introduction of this group that I felt the first niggle of concern about this story. I felt too often Pike painted these men as somewhat mindless sex machines who were more intent on putting another notch on their sexual conquest belts than developing any lasting relationships. Consequently, I struggled to fine any redeeming qualities or even like these guys. I also felt a bit unhappy that Pike would choose to stereotypically paint gay men with the same (only out for sex) brush as those that hold conservative views often do. I found that disappointing. When I realized that this novel was actually the beginning of a series (Boston Boys) it made a bit more sense to be introduced to so many side characters that seemed to fit so seamlessly into the same “gay” mold, yet it still left me uneasy with her choice of characterization. It will be interesting to see which of these characters Pike chooses to focus on in her next novel in the series and if she changes her viewpoint.

As the story progressed, so did Adam’s love for Jesse. In fact, we were lulled into a false sense of hope that Jesse’s feelings for Adam were not only reciprocated but developing as well—this was it—these boys were falling in love. Finally, Jesse would declare that he was really gay and these two young men would happily begin to explore their love for each other. Then Jesse announced that his fiancé was coming for Spring Break…and that she was pushing to consummate their relationship, something that they had never done before due to her vow of chastity before marriage. And with that pronouncement and her subsequent arrival, the bottom falls out of Adam’s world and he falls into a deep depression from which only his friend Eric, by sheer force of will, seems able to rescue him. Eric constantly reminds Adam of the painful reality that Jesse, while still in love with Adam, refuses to be with him in any other capacity.

And there is where I must leave you, dear reader, for to divulge anymore of this story would be to give away an ending that is both powerful and satisfying. This story was well written, with strong characters, which were believable and interesting. While the main story line focused on Adam and Jesse, Pike introduced us to other plot threads such as Eric’s desire to begin a “Gaysority” (a gay sorority) on campus, as well as shedding light on the sometimes-brutal practice of hazing new recruits into fraternities. While this could have easily become another “gay for you” novel, Pike ups the ante by allowing us to see how very real the struggle is when our emotions tell us one thing and our fears drive us to do another. Jesse is so conflicted, in love with his roommate but locked into the life that his family and fiancée have mapped out for him. By loving him, Adam shows Jesse a whole other world where he can be free to choose whom he will love and feel right and good about the loving as well.

Unfortunately, the novel also became rather wordy and drawn out. Often I felt that Pike could have pulled the story along at a faster pace with considerably less focus on inner dialogue. There seemed to be considerable time spent exploring Adam’s feelings for Jesse which can be helpful in understanding the dynamic of the relationship, but also ended up in long passages of self analysis and lots of angst. However, despite these drawbacks the story is solid and well developed. I look forward to seeing how  Pike develops as a writer and where she decides to carry the stories about these boys of Boston.

Be sure to check out the excerpt from A Life Without You that ran last week.  The contest is closed, but you can still get a sneak peek at the story.