Narrator: Derrick McClain
Length: 11 hours, 7 minutes
Gustavo Tiberius lives in the small town of Abby, Oregon, working at the video store his late father left him. No, no one rents videos anymore, but Gus doesn’t care. He doesn’t much like people anyway and his closest friends are Lottie, who owns the coffee shop, the We Three Queens, a group of elderly lesbian lovers (or possibly sisters) who ride Vespas and wear matching jackets, and his albino ferret named Harry S. Truman. Gus still mourns the death of his father, and pretty much sticks to himself and keeps to his rituals and routines as much as possible.
Things get shaken up when Lottie’s nephew, Casey, comes into town. Gus doesn’t know quite what to make of Casey, who has a casual ease in his own skin that is nothing like Gus’ own anxiety and awkwardness. Casey is an asexual, stoner hipster who puts everything on Instagram, is a famous author of trashy teen fiction, and somehow to Gus’ shock, thinks Gus is pretty awesome. And despite himself, Gus can’t help but think Casey is pretty awesome too.
Gus isn’t quite sure how it happens, but soon Casey worms his way into Gus’ life and the two become friends. Gus finds himself happy and enjoying life in a way he hasn’t for a long time, and he knows it is because of Casey. But Gus also knows he is pretty much not normal, so he goes to the great fountain of knowledge–the Internet–in search of advice on how to be a normal person. He knows that he should be himself, but Gus can’t help but seek answers in hopes of making himself someone who could be with a guy like Casey.
Though the results are just as often disastrous as helpful, the Internet’s advice does help Gus move out of his comfort zone a little and try new things. As he and Casey begin to spend more time together, Gus begins to think that there is hope for something real and lasting between them. But he is still not sure how a guy like Casey could ever really want someone like Gus, and when it seems Casey might be leaving Abby, Gus needs to figure out if he can really have a life with this man he is growing to love.
So this is a story that is really made by the fabulous characters, Gus in particular. When we first meet him, Gus is still mourning his father, fairly downtrodden, and avoiding dealing with most people. He works a job in a store no one ever enters, and his social interaction is pretty much limited to Lottie and the Queens. Gus has some pretty clear OCD, with rituals and routines that rule his life. I’ll admit, at first I found the story a little slow and somewhat depressing as Gus’ life is pretty sad and he isn’t the friendliest guy around, but once things pick up steam with Casey involved, the emotional side of things picked up as well.
I loved these two guys together because Casey just has an openness and acceptance that lets him enjoy Gus as he is. Casey seems delighted rather than turned off by Gus’ quirks and weirdness. I was never quite clear if it was Casey’s constant stoned state, or if he just kind of was oblivious (or uncaring) about social norms, but he never seems to find Gus odd or awkward (despite the fact that he pretty clearly is both). But what they have in common is that both of these guys are kind, caring, and sweet, it is just that Casey’s personality is more on the surface and Gus’ buries his real self inside. They are a sweet combination, and there is a tenderness here as we see Gus finally open himself up with Casy and find the acceptance and happiness that has been eluding him.
If you have read other of T.J. Klune’s more humorous stories, you will recognize the tone to this story as well. Gus is quirky and awkward and often speaks without thinking and has equally odd friends. He is constantly finding himself in absurd situations and the tone here is very light and fun. A particular source of humor is Gus’ forays onto the Internet to learn to be normal. The guidance he receives in the form of an instruction manual on the topic is hysterical and ridiculous and makes for lots of reading entertainment.
I listened to this story in audio format and I loved narrator Derrick McClain. I immediately went looking to see what else he had narrated as McClain does a really fabulous job with the story. He captures Casey’s laid back stoner vibe and Gus’ more uptight personality really well. He manages to portray the We Three Queens with voices that sound both feminine and elderly. And he does an amazing job with the “instruction manual” voice as Gus reads his Internet guidance. He gets that perfect “informercial” tone that totally sells these passages and adds to the humor. The pacing, the tone, and the characterizations work really well here and I think McClain’s narration adds a lot to the story.
So overall I liked this one a lot. I enjoy Klune’s humor and this story is both amusing, but also poignant. Gus is a vulnerable guy who is clearly unhappy, and I really enjoyed seeing him grow and change over the course of the story with Casey’s support and love.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.