Rating: 4 stars
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The 1980s serve as a backdrop for this story of rocker Thomas Schultz and his rise to fame with his band, Sparklebottom. Before he makes it big, his band plays for weddings, entertaining the audience but mostly bartender Simon Phillips, who finds himself simultaneously annoyed and turned on by the sexy singer. One night after a gig, Thomas slips his room key in Simon’s back pocket, and they have one night of sizzling passion before they both go their separate ways. They cross paths once again months later, and Simon finds out that Thomas doesn’t have the easy go-lucky life that he imagined. Thomas’ parents had died in an accident the previous year, and Simon invites Thomas and his sister to join his family for the holidays. They make a connection and develop a strong relationship before Thomas sets off on the road with his band.
Simon and Thomas manage to maintain contact for a couple of months, but then Thomas becomes distant and eventually stops writing Simon altogether. (This was back in the pre-text message, pre-Internet days, so writing and calling was all they had.) They both move on with their lives. Thomas invests his time into the band and becomes a success. Simon works his way through school and meets another guy he really likes. When Simon literally runs into Thomas at the university library a while later, it’s time for them to assess their feelings and their future. It is not smooth sailing. Thomas deals with the stress of his rising success, as well as being a closeted rock star. Simon is keeping the hours of a busy medical student. Their relationship needs to stay strong to weather the storm.
I really enjoyed the first half of this book. I liked both Thomas and Simon, and have always enjoyed the rising rock star trope. Even though they got together fairly quickly, there was a good amount of tension as they tried to decide whether this was something they both wanted for the long term. Their sexual chemistry was good, even though I didn’t quite understand Thomas’ strong, seemingly unmerited reservations about sex. And that red boot on the cover? It plays a quite prominent role in this book, and it is just as hot as it would seem.
While I found this book to be perfectly pleasant, it just never pulled me in. This may be due, in part, to the 1st person POV. In this case, the 1st person POV, combined with the fact that the book takes place over many years, made it end up sounding a lot like a list of events, with periods of months occurring in a paragraph or two. There was a lot of telling us what to see, think, and feel, rather than presenting a story and allowing the readers to have their own experience. I thought being in the head of Simon was also very limiting. Thomas came off as a bit of a jerk, and it was hard to feel any empathy or understanding for him and his circumstances (even when they became quite serious), because we were unable to connect with him on an emotional level, instead seeing everything from the outside looking in.
I do think there will be people who will be able to connect with this novel based upon their own life experiences, especially when Thomas is dealing with some serious health issues. I think his devastating, self-destructive reaction to the news of his health would make more sense to someone who has actually experienced it. I saw it as selfish, and once again wondered why Simon continued to stand by his side. Thomas does redeem himself, however, and the epilogue wraps up their story in a beautiful way. It’s also fun to revisit the 80s, when MTV was big, and being a rising musician was a much different experience than it is now.
I had a bit of a mixed reaction to this novel the entire time I was reading it, but I do think that it was more a matter of personal taste. It is solidly written and has some really strong moments, and I would recommend you give it a try. I think this author has real promise.