Rating: 3.25 stars
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Ringo is a security chief at the Newport Sands, an RV resort on the beach. Ringo has had an on again/off again relationship with Gavin, a musician who lives at the resort. Ringo fell hard for Gavin the first time he saw him playing his saxophone, but Gavin has always kept him at a distance. Any time Ringo starts to get too close, Gavin puts up walls between them. What Ringo really wants is to be with Gavin and take care of him, especially after his recent knee surgery. But Gavin feels smothered and lashes out when things get too intense for him.
Things get even more complicated when Gavin’s dog Bird gets lost, on Ringo’s watch no less. Gavin is devastated and takes out the blame on Ringo. All Ringo wants this holiday is to make Gavin a permanent part of his life, but he must find Bird to restore Gavin’s faith in him. And then just maybe he can have the man he loves in his life for good.
I am a huge fan of Z.A. Maxfield and this story has a lot of the elements I like about her writing. First off, Gavin is a musician and Maxfield really weaves that so well into the story. From the music the men listen to, to the way Gavin makes music with his hands and whatever he has in front of him, to the way Ringo sees music in every one of Gavin’s movements, this theme is really well incorporated. It gave me an instant sense of the type of person Gavin is, and importance of music in his life and in Ringo’s.
I also enjoyed the depictions of the small town that is the RV resort. As a regular camper, I have seen these huge RVs and watched the security guards drive around on their golf carts. Maxfield really captured those early mornings when the park is still and just a few walkers are up and about, the late night campfires, and the rest of the atmosphere of the RV resort. She brought it to life for me and I enjoyed these parts of the story.
Unfortunately, the biggest problem for me here is that I never warmed up to either Gavin or Ringo, and I never felt like they actually belonged together, and this was a hurdle I just couldn’t get past.
First off, it is clear from the start how one sided things are between these men. Ringo is all in, and Gavin is pushing away. They have dated in the past, and continue to periodically sleep together, but Ringo definitely wants more and Gavin keeps him at a distance. Gavin can’t deal with anyone being close to him, and the second he feels even a tiny bit hemmed in, he lashes out. Ringo is a nurturer by nature and he wants to be a part of Gavin’s life, and Gavin is equally clear that he is a free spirit and wants no real ties, that Gavin is smothering him. We are told that it hurts Ringo to be around Gavin, to want someone who keeps himself so reserved and aloof. But it is not just the aloofness that bothered me here, it is the meanness and the awful way Gavin treats Ringo. Here Ringo describes what Gavin is like:
Gavin was as predictable as taxes in April or heat in August. As soon as Ringo got close, as soon as Gavin even suspected he’d left a tiny crack open and Ringo might find a way into his controlled, solitary existence, Gavin was right there, ready to rain shit down from the heavens.
Gavin didn’t just move away. Oh no. He didn’t turn Ringo around with a simply worded it’s not me, it’s you.
Gavin had to be merciless.
He had to be cruel.
He had to accuse and rail and vent, and when he was done, and Ringo felt like his heart was lying on the floor in a battered heap, Gavin had to kick that barely beating organ a little, just to make sure.
Get your useless ass out of here and go find my goddamn dog.
Gavin could—unerringly—find any place on Ringo’s rhino hide that was unprotected. Like hand-to-hand combat, he feinted, parried, drew Ringo in close, misdirected his attention, then struck hard and fast. Killing blows every time. There were no second chances—at least until Ringo had time to heal between bouts. His only choice was to crawl away and lick his wounds and forget.
I just could not find this guy likable at all, or really understand why Ringo did. It is not just a matter of being a solitary loner, or not being ready for a relationship. There is a cruelty there that Ringo describes, an abusiveness that I could never get past. Just to be clear, this is not just related to Bird’s disappearance (though Gavin unjustly blames Ringo for that). This is behavior that has been ongoing throughout their relationship. He is abusive, mentally, emotionally, and even somewhat physically. But Ringo just makes excuses for him. It just really made it impossible for me to root for Gavin at all, especially because it never really goes away.
For his part, Ringo is a nice, sweet guy. He is loving with his family, friendly with his coworkers, more than patient and understanding with Gavin. But all I could think about with him is what a doormat he is to let himself be treated this way. Unfortunately, for me Ringo comes across as a lovely man, but just a little too pathetic. No one deserves this treatment, and nothing I see from Gavin indicates he is worth it. But Ringo sort of treats him like a skittish horse — don’t look directly at him, make very slow movements, and maybe if you are really careful you can ease in a little bit close and he won’t freak out and kick you in the face. Literally Ringo has moments where he analyzes Gavin in almost this exact way. I wanted more for Ringo, wanted him to want more for himself.
At some point Ringo decides he is fed up, and I got hopeful for some real change. Ringo calls this the New World Order, the new start to their relationship. He isn’t going to let Gavin push him away because he knows deep down Gavin really is lonely and wants to be together. So instead, he basically lets Gavin treat him like crap and Ringo takes it and sort of pretends like things are great between them. Ringo’s only real ultimatum is that Gavin can’t be violent with him, because Ringo is bigger and he worries he will hurt Gavin if he defends himself. Not because it is not ok to throw glass bottles at the wall in a violent fit of temper, but because he worries about Gavin. Here is part of the scene I am talking about. Gavin starts it off yelling because Ringo says he shouldn’t drink alcohol with his pain killers.
“I don’t need your fucking advice. God, will you stop?” Gavin turned on him, bottle in one hand, glass in the other. His gaze burned holes into Ringo’s skin. “You are good for one thing and one thing only, and I don’t need your cock right now, got it?”
“Listen to you.” Ringo thought he was remaining remarkably calm, given the provocation. “What do you imagine gives you permission to talk to me like that?”
“I’ll talk to people any way I want.”
Smash. The bottle blew into a thousand pieces against the wall. Some of them pinged off Ringo’s legs, but didn’t do him any damage. Gavin got the worst of it, blood beading up on his face and arms from minor cuts. He looked ready to let the glass fly too.
Ringo rose to his feet in a fluid move. He tore the glass from Gavin’s grasp. “Stop.”
“I’ll do whatever I want! Say whatever I want. I don’t need you telling me what to do, you motherfucking, dumbass piece of shit!”
Again, Ringo’s response to this is too basically take the abuse and tell Gavin he can’t hurt Ringo because Ringo doesn’t want to hurt Gavin by defending himself.
After that point, Ringo seems like he is in crazy denial to me, basically acting like everything is great between them. He brings Gavin home for Christmas, even though he knows that his family will think they are boyfriends. He even tells them that Gavin will be around a lot now. He wants Gavin to move in with him. Again, Ringo is pretty much just barreling along here like nothing is wrong between them. And for some reason, after being totally against a relationship, Gavin lets him, which didn’t make much sense to me. But then, when things go bad, Gavin is right back to his old, abusive behavior.
I guess the bottom line for me is that I didn’t ever like Gavin enough, or understand Ringo enough, to root for these guys. Honestly, they seemed so fundamentally incompatible I don’t see how they would ever be right for one another. Sometimes people can care for each other, and even love one another, but be so mismatched as to never work. And even at the end, I never saw how these two men could want the same things out of a relationship in a way that it could work. We get some nod to counseling, etc, but the ending comes so quickly I didn’t ever feel there was real change, or even hope for real change.
As I said before, I am a huge fan of Z.A. Maxfield and count a handful of her books among my all time m/m favorites. Unfortunately though, this one just didn’t work for me. I could see a lot of good qualities here, and I think if either of these guys work for you, you might feel differently about the book than I did. But I could never get past my deep dislike for Gavin, nor my feelings that Ringo is a doormat. And sadly, I could never really feel like these guys were meant to be together. So this one didn’t really work for me, but I will definitely be back for more from Maxfield in the future.
Note: 20% of all proceeds from this title are donated to the Ali Forney Center in New York, whose mission “is to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning (LGBTQ) youth from the harm of homelessness, and to support them in becoming safe and independent as they move from adolescence to adulthood.” To learn more about this charity or to donate directly, please visithttp://www.aliforneycenter.org/.