Rating: 3.75 stars
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One of the traits that I find most annoying about myself is that I totally judge a book by its cover. Since apparently I have learned nothing from fairly recent judgments where my expectations were completely blown by the actual reading experiences — sometimes better and sometimes worse — I saw this cover and title and thought I knew what I was getting into. But I did not, my friends. What should’ve been on the cover was basically everything and the kitchen sink, because while this story does indeed begin with a rent boy, it is so much more than that. It’s going to require you to check any sense of normalcy at the door and accept that anything can happen because, indeed, it does.
Since Dr. Edward Atherton is days away from his 30th birthday and still a virgin, he decides he’s ready to change that. He recklessly heads to a back alley in Soho, London and picks up a prostitute, who, in this case, is a skinny young man named Fox. Eddie has a better experience than he ever imagined and seems to make a genuine connection with Fox. So much so that Eddie continues to seek him out in order to spend more time together. Fox, however, is much different than he seems. He’s not a prostitute, in the standard sense. He’s the son of a father who is a monster. Since Fox is dependent upon his father to have enough money to attend art school, he agrees to go along with his plan. This requires the seduction of Eddie, who created the formula for a lethal chemical agent, in order to steal his computer.
The further Fox becomes involved in his father’s unknown, seriously shady agenda, the more deeply his genuine affection for Eddie grows, and the more reluctant he becomes to following the plan. Unfortunately, Fox’s father is abusive and Fox needs to watch out not only for himself, but his drunk mother and his twin autistic siblings as well. Simply refusing to do what his father wants him to do is not a possibility.
Fox and Eddie seem to be made for each other. Eddie’s strangeness works well with Fox’s patient and genuinely amused personality, and Eddie gives Fox the warmth and physical affection that he’s been missing all of his life. But Fox knows that he’s carrying a lot of secrets and that Eddie will most likely not want him once he finds out the truth. He’s trying to remain distant, but he’s falling further and further in love.
The best part about Rentboy is, without a doubt, the characters of Eddie and Fox. Eddie is strange. We’re not quite sure whether he has a medical condition or if he’s simply an uber-smart scientist who just doesn’t know how to function “normally” in society. He says whatever comes into his head and only after it’s escaped his mouth does he realize it may not be completely appropriate. Things don’t always make complete sense to Eddie and his bizarre actions often reflect that. Fox has had a very difficult life, and he’s become a hardened goth boy with a heart of gold. I loved the descriptions of these two characters. Fox is skinny and emo and in no way gorgeous. Eddie is taller, but awkward, with a big nose. I appreciated that we were talking about two regular guys here. Neither was going to win any beauty contests, but they were each able to look past the not-so-glamorous exterior and see the person inside. They were awkwardly adorable together. Eddie calls Fox “dear” which sounds antiquated and ridiculous, but starts to seem really sweet after the first couple of times. They were very strange and, while I didn’t necessarily always love some of the decisions that they made, I had much love for this couple.
It is perhaps because I did genuinely care for Eddie and Fox that I had such a problem with the actual story. It was kind of all over the place. There is a grand conspiracy at the root of it, but the peripheral includes issues of alcohol abuse, child and spousal abuse, autism, personality disorders, prostitution, drug abuse, genocide (I’m not kidding), and government assassinations. Like I said, everything and the kitchen sink. It was just a lot. Each one of those topics is serious and deserves a novel of its own, but instead the reader is made to accept that all of them are happening at once. And, because so many things are happening, none of them are being explained or covered well. I think a discriminating editing eye would have done this book a world of good, since I’ve mentioned that the potential certainly exists.
I know some people who have really loved this book and especially fallen in love with the characters like I did. If you have an adventurous soul and are up for something a bit off the beaten path, give this one a try.