We first meet Henry Clark following the wedding of his oldest friend, Schooner, to Schooner’s true love, Mia. It has been more than 20 years since the three graduated college, and seeing the couple find their happiness together just reinforces how much Henry wants love and domesticity. Especially when he meets Seth Shapiro at the wedding. The two hit it off and Seth seems to want exactly the same thing as Henry.
The story then takes us back until soon after Henry graduated college. He is living in San Diego and working as a successful pharmaceutical rep. We then follow along with Henry in his path to love, through both good relationships and bad, happiness and extreme pain. Henry goes through a long journey before he ultimately finds the life he has always dreamed of.
So yes, I know that is very vague. I was asked to be particularly cautious about spoilers, so I made a big effort not to give too much away about the plot. The book is mostly a story about Henry and his journey and over the course of the book he has ups and downs along the way. So I think that it is best left discovered as you read, to follow along with Henry through his relationships without knowing exactly how he is going to get to happiness. This is definitely an unusual story and the structure is nontraditional. I actually liked that aspect, as there is not a normal romance arc and it makes this a really unique book.
I also loved the historical elements and that is where Richman really shines. The story mostly takes place in the early 1990s in San Diego, as that is where the main plot picks up after the prologue. Richman does a fabulous job rooting this story in that time and place. There are wonderful details about culture and settings and attitudes of the time. The gay community is just coming into the most intense part of the AIDS crisis, the military is still a place you must be closeted, and technology is totally different than today. I was impressed over and over with the small touches in the story that immerse us right in the time and place and this is really well done.
There are a few things that didn’t work as well for me, however. First off, I had a hard time with the first part of the book. To be honest, early on I didn’t really like Henry so much. He is obsessed with men in uniform and having a man to control him. Neither of which are bad things, but he allows that desire to take over to the point that he misses some key warning signs. He is kind of cocky and obsessed and not nearly as likable as he is later in the book. The story also ties back to abuse Henry suffered as a child, when he was sexually molested repeatedly at age 9. The thing is, over and over Henry mentions how he didn’t mind, how he enjoyed it, and cried when it ended. He even refers to that time fondly on several occasions, and honestly it made me kind of queasy. At one point he says:
While his friends were devastated hearing of the molestation, Henry tried to make them understand that it was OK. That he’d actually liked it.
I get he may have been undergoing some sort of Stockholm syndrome type response, but the book never plays it that way. We don’t get the sense that the abuse colored his perspective, or that he has some emotional issues to work out. It is just kind of out there that this older man who was assaulting him is his first relationship of sorts and Henry thinks back on it fondly.
The other thing I had a hard time with is that I felt we kind of had this anvil hanging over our heads during the story. We learn from the prologue, set in present day, that Henry is really wanting a relationship and a partner, so clearly he is not happily settled at that point in time. We are also pointed to Seth as a potential future partner. The story then takes us back 20 or so years and we begin Henry’s journey. So the whole book, as he has his relationships, good and bad, we know something is going to happen to keep him from having an HEA before we catch up with present day. So it definitely affected my reading of the rest of the book, knowing something bad was always coming. I’m not sure how this could be avoided, or if it even needed to be. It just felt like something always hovering in the back of my mind as I read.
Which brings me to my next issue, which is that we don’t see Henry with his ultimate partner until far into the book, [spoiler] (the 76% mark) [/spoiler] which means that I didn’t feel like we had enough time for our HEA couple together. So much of the story is taken up by other relationships, all of which are incredibly important to Henry’s journey, but I felt like the final one just gets way shortchanged. There is also a big chunk of time missing after his final relationship before present day, and although I didn’t need day to day details, I would have liked more understanding of how Henry gets from where we left him in the past, to where we find him when we return to the present. I just needed a lot more to allow myself to make the emotional shift from one romance to the other and really be invested in the ultimate partnership, not to mention understanding Henry’s emotional journey.
One last note: this story is a standalone, but it is related to Richman’s Needing Moore series, featuring Schooner and Mia. Henry, and many of the side characters here (including Seth), make an appearance in that series, and Schooner has a big role in this book. I had no problems following along here, however, and Schooner and Mia’s story is recapped well. So these books are linked and if you read the other series you probably will want to read this book so you can get Henry’s story. But if you are starting here, you will be just fine.
So overall I liked this one. I particularly enjoyed the detail Richman gives us for the historical elements and think they are quite well done. And I think the unique structure really makes for an interesting story. But the pacing also felt off to me, with too little time on our ultimate pairing and too many gaps that left us to fill in how Henry made the transitions in time. However, I am glad that I stuck with this one after the rocky start, because as Henry’s journey continued I become really invested in him and his happiness. Henry turns out to be a really likable guy and I was rooting for him to finally find the love he deserves.