Rating: 4.5 stars
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Paul Auster is a pretty unremarkable guy at first glance — thirty years old, slightly overweight, and average looks. The most interesting things about him are the ones you can’t see — his incredible wit, his crazy family, his fabulous best friend Sandy who is also drag queen Helena Handbasket, and his two-legged dog named Wheels. So Paul is somewhat stunned and in total disbelief when an incredibly hot hunk of a guy seems to be staring at him from across the bar. Paul is sure he is imagining it, or the guy is playing a joke on him, or anything besides the fact that this ideal specimen of a man is actually interested in him. Being totally insecure and full of self-doubt, Paul leaves the bar without ever even talking to the guy.
So Paul is even more shocked a couple of days later when he encounters the man again. Vince Taylor seems to be totally into Paul and continues to pursue him. But Paul just doesn’t know how to handle things. Vince is so gorgeous and Paul is just sure that there is no way anything could ever develop between them. But Vince is nothing if not persistent, and wears Paul down (with the help of Sandy), and finally gets him to agree to a date. But even once they start spending time together, Paul still worries. Vince tries to reassure him that this is the real thing, that he has real feelings, and that something is happening between them. Paul slowly begins to open himself up to the idea that this may not all be a fantasy, that this wonderful guy can really be into him. But it is really only when Paul realizes that Vince needs him too, that Paul can be the rock and the support for this man he is falling in love with, that Paul finally is able to accept that this is the real thing.
So I think your feelings about this book will really center on how you feel about Paul. Paul is shy and awkward, clumsy and bumbling. He has no filter between his brain and his mouth and is constantly babbling on without being able to control himself. And he is also incredibly funny, full of wit and humor that kept me smiling, giggling, and even laughing out loud. Despite the fact that Paul never seems to know what to say to others, he keeps a running internal monologue throughout the book. Now most of the time I found Paul quite charming. He is trying so hard but his sense of worth is so low that he comes at this relationship from a sense of self-preservation. He can’t quite believe this is all happening and is afraid to trust in Vince’s interest for fear of being crushed. And as I said, he totally cracked me up. But I do think that we get a LOT of Paul’s inner voice throughout the book, and at times it was a little overwhelming. Basically the entire first chapter is just Paul talking to the reader in sort of a giant stream of consciousness information dump of everything in his head. Here is just a bit from that first chapter to give you a little flavor:
I certainly did not expect to be almost thirty and working a dead-end job as a claims adjuster for an insurance company. I’m not going to tell you which one; suffice it to say you’ve probably seen our commercials on TV and chuckled once or twice until they played over and over and over again and you wanted to dropkick the stupid little animal spokesperson. You think the commercials are bad? Try working here. Sometimes, they have some idiot dress up in the animal mascot costume for human resource events. The person in the costume is always chipper and waving hysterically as if they’re under the impression that if they stop, their hands will be chopped off. I hate that damn costume. And, I’ll admit, it scares me a bit. I was the kid who never wanted to have birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese because I was sure the animatronic monsters that were Chuck and his friends were actually real and when my parents weren’t looking, they’d jump down off the stage and snatch me, taking me back to their dungeon where they would eat me slowly. I was the life of every party, let me tell you.
Sorry. I got distracted again.
So I think the early parts of the book fall back onto that a bit too much for me. It is like when you are talking to someone who is always “on” and sometimes it gets to be just a little wearying. But as the story picks up and Paul moves from totally terrified to interact with Vince, to the beginnings of their relationship, I found that less of an issue. And most of the time, I enjoyed the humor so much I could work through it with no problem.
One of my favorite parts of the book was watching Paul’s growth throughout the story, both personally and in his relationship with Vince. When they first meet, Paul is a big bundle of mess. He can barely fathom the idea that Vince would be interested in him and spends most of the time freaking out and making a mess of things. Paul basically sees Vince as a hot body with sort of a dim brain, and the attraction is almost exclusively based on how hot Vince is (and how amazing his ass looks in bike shorts). Over time, Paul gains confidence in himself and his relationship. He learns more about Vince and begins to love his kind nature, positive outlook, and the fact that he is such a good caring guy. Paul begins to trust that what is between them can actually be something real and might actually work. And as the story continues, the balance between them starts to shift. Vince begins to be the one on uncertain footing and he depends on Paul for support. Suddenly Paul realizes he must be strong and confident so he can be the support that Vince needs. It is really lovely to see these guys grow to depend on one another and the way they take care of each other.
I also absolutely adored Sandy, Paul’s best friend. Sandy is strong and fierce and totally committed to Paul. The two of them have been inseparable since childhood and Sandy manages to be both Paul’s staunchest defender, as well as the person who pushes Paul the most. Sandy sees what a wonderful guy Paul is and won’t let him forget it. Sandy is also totally hysterical and irreverent, whether in his everyday persona or as Helena. He had me laughing out loud and cheering him on as he kicks Paul in the butt and supports him with tough love. In fact, parts of me liked Sandy even more than Paul, as he has all of Paul’s humor and wit in a bit less of an intense form since we are not inside his head. Their friendship is just incredibly beautiful and so important to both of them. Klune manages to create both the sassy sidekick and the true friend in one character. And oh, I so hope that Sandy gets the happy ending that just starts to take shape toward the end of the story.
I did struggle with a few things here, in addition to the occasional internal monologue overload. First, the book is long. Like really long. About 350 pages, which is quite a lot for a contemporary without a super complex plot. I think this is part of what contributed to my sense of maybe a bit too much Paul. I think a lot of the first part of the book could have been trimmed down and it would have tightened the story up tremendously. I also found Paul’s family a bit much at times. They too were hysterical, but again, sometimes just too much. They are very involved in Paul’s life and frequently interfering and making totally inappropriate comments. As much as they supported him, I kept wondering if their intensity was actually part of Paul’s problem. I mean, should a 30-year-old need his best friend, both parents, AND grandmother to come over to his house to help him after a fight with his boyfriend? I guess all of these issues fall into the category of a little too much bloat. I think with some more rigorous editing, the book could have been tightened up and really honed in on the key elements of the story, without losing the humor and fun. This book was so good, but with a little trimming it could have been a 5-star read.
But overall I really liked this one. It is my first book of Klune’s and I really enjoyed his voice. I loved the mix of humor and tenderness and I really appreciated how it is both sweet and hysterical at once. So a really enjoyable story and one I can definitely recommend.