Rating: 5 stars
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After his boyfriend dumps him for a younger man, Scott Mackenzie must figure out the mess his life has become. A part-time model, Mackenzie had allowed his ex to completely take over his life. Mackenzie lived in Nathan’s house and off Nathan’s income as Nathan’s disapproval of his profession saw Mackenzie’s modeling assignments dropping away until he was barely accepting job offers. Now the reality of his dependency is hitting Mackenzie hard as he tries to determine what to do next. He had purchased an old church to use for gay weddings on a whim and now that looks like his only avenue, both as a home and new job. But Mackenzie is a gay fish out of water in a small town in rural Ontario. Both he and the church need a lot of fixing up and he doesn’t know where to start.
Joe Sutton is a rancher and on occasion, when his twin needs help with his business, he is also a part time contractor. When his parents died, Joe and his twin brother did whatever was necessary to keep their family together on the land that had been a Sutton ranch for generations. In fact, Joe’s life now consists of running the ranch and managing his large and sometimes unruly family, leaving little time for a relationship, something already made difficult by the fact that Joe is gay in a small town.
When Mackenzie contracts the Sutton twins for help restoring the church, the initial meeting between the only two out gay men around doesn’t go well. Joe isn’t looking for a relationship and Mackenzie is put off by the monosyllabic impression Joe makes. But a small connection is made, one that grows larger by the day. When Mackenzie’s past arrives to threaten their burgeoning relationship, Joe and Mackenzie must decide just how much they will sacrifice to stay together.
Have you ever read a story where you immediately fell in love with the characters and plot even if you can’t exactly pinpoint why? The Fall by Kate Sherwood is that story for me. I love these men and I loved their story. Everything about Mackenzie and Joe spoke to me. I felt connected to them by their idiosyncrasies and their personalities. I loved Joe’s family and Mackenzie’s dog, Griffin. I loved the town of Falls Creek, the church Mackenzie bought to refurbish, and even the town’s Chamber of Commerce. How’s that for a lot of love? But that also makes for a very short review so I had to take a closer look to see if I could figure out my case of instant love for The Fall.
It turns out that I did not have to dig very deep for reasons to love this book. Starting with Kate Sherwood’s characters, everyone that Sherwood created for this story (with the exception of Nick) just captivated me. I found Mackenzie immediately endearing from the moment he murmurs to himself “no one puts Baby in the corner,” referring to himself. One reference and I was his. Mackenzie is someone who has a ton of growing up to do. He gradually let his ex take over his life until he was basically a kept man and Nathan his sugar daddy. At the moment we meet him, he is needy, spoiled by city life and a rich life style. This man is totally unmoored in every aspect of his life. This is our first introduction to Mackenzie:
“IT’S NOT like I was expecting an adorable little café. I knew that even Starbucks might be pushing it.” Mackenzie tried to loosen his grip on his cell phone before saying, “But Kristen, there’s not even a Tim Hortons! There’s a donut shop. It’s called The Donut Shop. It sells donuts. No pastries, no soup, no sandwiches. Just donuts. And coffee.” In the interest of full disclosure, he added, “And bagels. I don’t know what’s with the bagels. But there isn’t even a drive-through!”
Mackenzie has just arrived in town and already he is panicking. And he hasn’t even set foot in the church he owns to see how much work is needed just to make it safe. But even as adrift emotionally as Mackenzie is, we know he is worth sticking around to see what happens next. Gradually Mackenzie starts to grow up, accepting responsibility for his life and deciding to take charge of his future. Sherwood throws this character down an uneven path, making him stumble and fall. But as we watch Mackenzie pick himself up, often with verve and self depreciation, our connection to this character deepens with each new page.
The character of Joe Sutton starts off as the antithesis of MacKenzie. Whereas Mackenzie has not had enough responsibility in his life, Joe has almost had too much, eschewing a social life for family and his ranch. Joe has become so reserved in demeanor that Mackenzie’s ebullience and vivacity puts him off, leading him to make assumptions about Mackenzie from his mannerisms and conversation. The thing is Joe is only partly wrong. There are many layers to Joe, and they are peeled back one by one as Joe and Mackenzie begin a casual sexual relationship that turns into an emotional commitment. Gradually we see the humor, the love of family and the land. Sherwood’s portrait of Joe will win you over just as completely as Mackenzie’s.
All the characters are well done here, whether you like them or not. They are grounded in their human frailties, their complexities feel both real and recognizable. Of special note is Joe’s nephew, with whom he has a father/son relationship. Five-year-old Austin is a special needs child, although the reason for that is never mentioned. Austin’s behavior (autism it seems to me) is well researched and authentic. And Joe’s relationship with Austin and the manner in which he interacts with his nephew brought more depth and warmth to a story I was already in love with. Add in the rest of the Sutton siblings and the dogs Griffin and Red, each characters in their own right, and you have a story brimming with people and pets not easily forgotten.
Sherwood’s dialog is especially noteworthy. It almost sparkles as it exits Mackenzie’s mouth, frothy, excitable, and very vulnerable. Joe’s dialog too is perfect for his character. It’s slow, thoughtful, and grounded. It all works. The plot comes to a happy resolution but leaves enough story threads hanging to carryover into another book. The Fall is the first in a series and I can’t wait to read the next installment. These characters and their town has me hooked. Consider The Fall highly recommended.
Cover art by Leah Kaye Suttle. I liked the cover but wish it had included more elements specific to the story, such as the church. As it is it feels almost too generic.