Rating: 3 stars
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Jesse has just broken up with Janey, his girlfriend of six years. His grandmother, who is convinced he is gay and tells him so at every opportunity, sends him on a cruise before he starts his new job. Jesse is excited, until he arrives and realizes he’s on a gay cruise. Jesse is not gay, or so he keeps telling himself. When he meets his new roommate, Daniel, who is heartbroken after breaking up with a cheating boyfriend, Jesse finds a really good friend. They are inseparable on this month-long cruise, finding enjoyment in their shared interests, including a love for sudoku and crossword puzzles.
Jesse and Daniel spend the first couple of weeks innocently, until Jesse realizes that he’s attracted to Daniel and their dancing turns to dirty dancing quickly. Things are amped up for the last couple of weeks, as Jesse explores Daniel’s body while still insisting he is curious but nothing more. They enjoy all of the activities of the cruise while trying to ignore the fact that, in just a few more days, they’ll have to return to real life without each other.
The title Gay as Mardi Gras was my first clue that this book was going to be in your face. And I was willing to give it a chance because I thought it could go one of two ways: really fun and celebratory, or insulting and stereotypical. Unfortunately, it tended toward the latter for me. Grandma sends Jesse on a gay cruise after calling him “gay as mardi gras,” even though he insists he’s not and has had a girlfriend for six years. I’m not saying grandma didn’t suspect Jesse was gay, but it seemed a rather abrupt way to pull Jesse out of the closet, kicking and screaming.
When Jesse arrives on the cruise, he becomes a victim to the predatory gays who are surrounding him on every side. They all want a piece of his ass, including one guy they’ve nicknamed “the Hulk,” who tries to make a grab for his penis while they’re standing at the urinal. This felt demeaning to gay men, who are more than a bunch of sexed-up guys looking to go in for the kill. Everything felt a little too conveniently clichéd — and not in a good way. From the skimpy costumes for the costume parties to the leering while poolside, it felt exaggerated and more than a little bit degrading.
I think it was supposed to be funny, but the humor just didn’t click with me. Case in point: a scene where Jesse is shocked to realize there’s a table covered in phallic-shaped vegetables (crudités, which I’m pretty sure are all, not surprisingly, cut into stick shapes whether you’re on a gay cruise or not), and then loses his balance and falls into the pool! It’s a bit too slapsticky for my taste and I found myself rolling my eyes rather than laughing.
Lastly, the sex. Here’s a scene that, I think, is supposed to be erotic and sweet, yet I found to be, well, the opposite of that:
The sweet quivering devastation that is my orgasm ends up sneaking up on me unexpectedly. It’s too soon, yeah, definitely too soon to have the hot, tight, silk of his rosebud steal the treasure from me — my only consolation is that Daniel opens his treasure chest first.
And oh, what a treasure it is.
I think Velden’s biggest problem is that she’s trying for something different, something funny and sweet and sexy, and it just misses the mark. I have to give her credit for attempting something original. I just don’t see how it can be taken as anything less than a farce. It’s fairly well-written, with two likable MCs and perhaps you will find it more amusing than I did. I, however, did not enjoy it much at all.