Rating: 4.75 stars
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Dawson Barnes lives a happy and wonderful life. He goes to community college, lives and works with his best friend Benji, and has a great future as a stage tech for the theater. Although his mom is out of his life, Dawson’s father adores him and they are very close. Dawson has love and happiness and his people. He is also sort of a bumbling mess of elbows and knees, and when famous dancer Jared Emory visits his school to perform, Dawson ends up falling off the catwalk and nearly landing on Jared’s head.
Dawson’s first (and probably second and third) impressions of Jared are of an aloof ice king. He is famous and absurdly gorgeous and seems very reserved. He is quite the contrast to Dawson who can ramble on with the best of them. But somehow the two strike up a friendship, and soon an attraction. And through the magic of a late night at Denny’s, ultimately a sexual connection and a promise to see where the future takes them.
Unfortunately, Jared lives 400 miles away and his busy dance schedule means the guys have only limited slices of time together amidst long separations. But that doesn’t stop Jared and Dawson from falling hard for one another. Slowly Dawson begins to break down Jared’s walls, to see what is under his tough exterior. For all his looks and talent and fame, Jared has no one. His life is dance and competition for the spotlight with no one who really cares for him until Dawson comes around. And Dawson becomes more than a boyfriend. He brings Jared a family made up of Dawson’s friends who take Jared into their hearts and begin to love him too.
As much as Jared loves dance, the demands of his career and the life he has built for himself are taking their toll. Jared’s body is slowly failing him. He is stuck in an apartment with roommates he barely knows. He has a manager who is only interested in what Jared can do for him. And he has no one in his professional life that cares about him at all. But Jared has wanted to be a dancer all his life. It is the only thing he thought he would ever want. Now Jared needs to figure out if being a dancer is worth the continued pain, or if he is ready to reach for happiness and a life with Dawson.
You guys, I am running out of ways to talk about Amy Lane’s books. Seriously, she is just such a genius and writes so many incredibly wonderful stories, I have a hard time figuring out what to say anymore. Behind the Curtain is just as fabulous, and everything I love most about Lane’s writing. So short version is that I just adored this book and think you should go buy it right now. But I’ll break it down for you.
First off, I adored Dawson totally and completely. Lane has a way of creating these guys who are somehow sort of bumbling and awkward and babbling, but yet unbelievably lovable and charming at the same time. I loved his crazy stream of consciousness talking, his slight stumbling over his own feet, and the fact that no matter what he just can’t seem to stay quiet when they have sex. Dawson starts off this book sort of young and naive. Although his mother basically stepped out of his life when she remarried and found out he was gay, Dawson is surrounded by love and support, mostly from his father and best friend. He has a job he loves, his future seems bright, and he knows he is lucky to have it all. He is not childish, he just hasn’t had to face a lot of harsh real world realities. But as he gets to know Jared he realizes that some people have no one. And that for all of Jared’s fame and talent, he needs that love and support so badly. And that Jared can’t quite take care of himself, and just maybe needs the younger Dawson to step in and fill that job. Dawson is fiercely protective over Jared and willing to take on anyone, including Jared himself, who does not put his best interests at heart.
What Lane does here that is so clever is set up our expectations and then totally flip them. We see Dawson as this young guy, sort of right there on the line between young man and adult. He is in school, lives in a tiny apartment with his childhood best friend, and drives a junker car. Then we meet Jared, who is older, famous, talented, gorgeous, and godlike. And we at first assume that Jared will be the leader in their relationship, the one that guides things. And at first he is. But slowly we realize that Dawson is the strength of the pair. He is the one who takes care of Jared, who gives him a family, who looks after him. He is the one with the love and strength on his side that he is able to share with Jared who needs it so very badly. And in the end, it is Dawson’s love and steadfast determination that are what give Jared the strength to finally take care of himself. It is so fascinating to watch this play out over the book, and I love that Lane gives us that twist on their relationship.
One of the big themes in this book is the importance of family, and the difference between the one you are born with and the one you create. First off, I can’t write this review without talking about Dawson and Benji. They have been best friends for years, each growing up with one parent, inseparable their entire lives. The fact that Dawson is gay and Benji is straight is never a factor. And they are so important to each other and connected in such a meaningful way, it goes beyond mere friendship. I loved the way this relationship is portrayed and to see two young men who are such fiercely committed friends, who would do anything for one another and are bonded so tightly. Along with them, we also meet Benji’s girlfriend Darian, and their new friend Amber. Pretty soon all four are living in Benji and Dawson’s apartment. They all become incredibly close, there to love and support one another. And when Jared visits, he is suddenly absorbed by all this love and closeness. For the first time Jared has people who actually care about him, people who worry when he is sick, and who are happy to have him around. Dawson has this fierce, tight knit little clan, and they welcome Jared in and give him the love that he has been missing. It is so heartwarming to see Jared blossom under this love, to realize he has people who care about him and that he finally has a family.
A lot of the conflict here centers on Jared and his career and the toll it is taking on his life. As I said, Dawson is fiercely protective over Jared and is determined to take care of him since Jared clearly is unable or unwilling to do it for himself. Jared’s self worth is so tied up in dance, he sees nothing else of value. He barely understands why Dawson wants to be with him, sure they will always be on the verge of breaking up. And he just doesn’t know if he can be strong enough to walk away from dance, even though it is killing him body and spirit. There is such pain here as we watch Jared struggle. Yet at the same time it is so uplifting to see him finally find a home. I do think at times Dawson’s view of things is a little oversimplified. He can’t understand why Jared is willing to lose himself in dance even when it may be hurting him, why he can’t just not perform if he doesn’t feel well. He doesn’t always seem to understand why Jared needs dance so badly. But on the other hand, I think his attitude makes sense. Dawson is young and hasn’t had a lot of real world life yet. And so he sees things much more black and white. He will staunchly defend Jared with everything he has because he can’t even consider any other option.
My only tiny quibble here is that I think this one veered on a little bit long. There is an episodic nature to the story, the highs and lows of Jared coming and going. But it is also a long book, and sometimes I felt like we were hearing the same issues over again, like Jared’s fear that they would break up. But I was never bored and tore through the story despite it’s length.
One of the things I most love about Lane’s writing is how she can rip your heart out in one minute and totally make you laugh the next. One of the recurring bits of humor in the book is how noisy Dawson is in bed. Jared is his first pretty much everything, and he takes to sex with great joy and enthusiasm. But being in a house with thin walls and lots of people makes things a little awkward. Here is a post sex moment:
“Am I crushing you?” Jared asked after a minute.
Dawson made a negative noise. “But you are drowning me,” he murmured, because it felt like he was literally squelching in come.
“Yeah, God. Sheets. Do you have any?”
Dawson nodded, not that Jared could do more than feel him jerk.
“Yeah, but, uhm, we need to put on shorts. And move quietly.”
Jared started laughing, muffling the sound in Dawson’s shoulder, and Dawson caught his breath enough to glare at him. “What?”
“God, Dawson, do you think there’s a person in this complex who didn’t hear that sound you just made?”
Dawson blinked at him. “Earplugs,” he said, nodding like he could make it so.
Jared lifted himself, then fell to the side and shook his head, making sure Dawson could see him. “Babe, there’s not enough insulation in the world. People in the next town probably just woke up and said, ‘Hey! I know that kid! He’s getting laid!’”
Just such a lovely mix of humor and poignancy, pain and love, sadness and warmth. Lane is just a master at putting it all together and this story is a great example of her wonderful writing. So I just loved Behind the Curtain and highly recommend it.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.