Rating: 4.75 stars
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Michael Ryder is 18 years old and hitch hiking across the country after being rejected by his family. It is America’s bicentennial and all across the country people are celebrating. But Ryder knows that most people will never accept him, that he is not free to live like everyone else. That is why he is headed to San Francisco. He has heard that things are more accepting for gays there, that there is even an openly gay politician named Harvey Milk running for office. Ryder imagines San Francisco to be sort of a gay nirvana, a place where he can find acceptance and someone to love, but with almost no money in his pockets, getting there is not easy.
Ryder has been hitching rides and using his body as the only payment he has. Part of him feels guilt and shame for the sex with strangers, but part has also enjoyed some of this new sexual exploration. As the story opens, Ryder is at a truck stop late a night, looking for another ride. When he sees a sexy biker, he knows better than to make too much eye contact. This guy is dangerous looking and Ryder is sure that if the guy knows he is gay, Ryder is in for trouble. So he is surprised when the man, whose name he later learns is Snake, offers to take him as far as Albuquerque. Ryder is thrilled to get a ride so far across the country, but is also scared of giving his sexuality away to Snake, or showing how attracted he is to the man.
As the men continue their roadtrip, Ryder is shocked to find that Snake shares his attraction. It shakes his perspective a little, learning someone he identifies as so manly is also gay. As the two men share some passion on the road, Ryder begins to learn more about himself, gaining new confidence and coming to really understand what he wants out life. It is becoming clear to him that Snake shares not just his attraction, but emotional feelings as well. Ryder would love Snake to come to California and make a life with him, but he isn’t even totally confident of Snake’s feelings. And Snake has a lot of baggage from his own past, so making himself vulnerable by having real feelings for Ryder is almost too much for him to handle. The guys face trouble and dangers on the road, but the biggest hurdle might be accepting what they truly want from each other and taking the risk to have it.
I am always on the lookout for a good non-Regency historical, so I was really excited to pick up this book set in the mid-1970s. Wadsworth does a great job of really grounding the book in not only that time period, but a key weekend in U.S. history. The way the people talk and behave, the styles of cars, the sense of patriotism coming from the ending of the war combined with the bicentennial, it all really immerses you in the time period. I appreciated how these details are integrated so naturally into the story, without feeling like they are dropped in just to show you it is 1976. Instead, everything is woven together really well to evoke the time period and make you feel like you are a part of it.
I also love a good road trip story, and this again has a very authentic feel. The guys travel miles on Snake’s motorcycle, and I could practical feel the vibrations from the bike, the dusty road, the endless miles stretching before them. I could just imagine myself driving down the famous Route 66 of 40 years ago, when it was a major highway and the tourists flocked. The little towns they pass and the people they meet all felt so authentic, as did that sense of bonding that comes from spending so much intense time with another person. This story takes place over just a few days, but we really see how that constant time spent together and the ordeals these guys go through just connect them in a way where their quick emotional connection felt natural to me.
The story really divides into two parts here. The first focuses primarily on the relationship, both physical and emotional, that is developing between Snake and Ryder. We are in Ryder’s POV, and we see the dawning awareness that Snake also is attracted to men, and then the ramping up of sexual tension as these guys recognize each other’s interest. The sex scenes are amazing here and incredibly hot. Wadsworth writes passion and erotica incredibly well and these scenes are just fan yourself hot. I especially loved an early scene as Ryder realizes Snake is interested in him and the guys slowly build up the sexual tension, turning each other on as they ride down the highway until neither one can take it anymore. Whew!
The second part of the story focuses more on the various troubles these guys run into along the way, and the conflict of working out what the future will bring for them. I think this sort of two-part structure works well here as this is a long book and, while I loved all the sex scenes, they alone would not be enough to carry the story. Dealing with all of their problems also helps bond the guys as they work through the trouble together.
My only real issue with this book is that I think there is just too much of Ryder’s internal narrative. As I said, we are in his POV, and a lot of time is spent with him coming to terms with his feelings about himself and where he sees himself in the world, his understanding about Snake and what is driving him, and his concern about whether Snake really shares his feelings. And all these things are important and well developed, but they are repeated so much that I think the story began to drown in it a little, especially considering this is a fairly long book. For example, we get Ryder’s fluctuations between certainty of Snake’s feelings and worry he isn’t really interested in him over and over. Or many repeated thoughts about his determination to be out and proud rather than hiding his sexuality. I think these ideas could have been conveyed fewer times and still made an impact, but as it was some of these ideas are just expressed so much that it slows things down. I also think all this internal narrative at times gives us too much telling, rather than showing. For example, rather than Ryder telling us that something Snake did shows that he really cares about Ryder after all, why not let us see that and draw the conclusions for ourselves?
But overall this story was really a joy and I just loved it. I appreciated how Wadsworth immerses us in the world of 1976 and makes it all feel so real. I loved Snake and Ryder, and found them both to be complex and interesting characters. They have great chemistry together and are super hot. At times the story got a little long-winded, but overall I found this to really be very enjoyable and unique. It is one that I know will stick with me for a long time. Definitely recommended.
Cover Review: OMG, do I love this cover. This is another story where the cover totally sold me on trying the book. Beautiful artwork as usual from the fabulous Paul Richmond. The look and feel of our cover guy is totally Snake, and I loved the smaller image of Ryder hitchhiking. It feels so true to the book and the style totally evokes the time period as well. Just gorgeous.