Bobby Wolfe is a student, though he is better known for his partying than the quality of his work. His alter-ego Bobbi XTina spends her evenings entertaining the locals in gay clubs in the area. Bobby is flamboyant and unashamed of who he is, but also selfish and usually acts without thinking.
After the ‘Flames of Passion in Olde Hall’ incident, Bobby is asked to leave his campus housing and is approached by a stranger who says Bobby would be an ideal fit to manage a renovation project at the Lovett estate, with room and board included. Bobby finds himself living in a small cottage near the Lovett mansion, which houses two strange servants, Conrad and Tomas, and the sickly but beautiful owner, Adam. Bobby soon realizes that there is something odd about Adam and his house and takes it upon himself to solve the mystery and save his new boss from the Lovett family curse.
The Trouble with Off-Campus Housing is told retrospectively in third person narration. It begins with Bobby entering a room with the jury of the Collegiate Housing Authority to appeal against the ruling that bans him from living in campus accommodation. In this first chapter, Shane Morton not only gives the reader clues about the story to come, but also creates a solid picture of who Bobby is, though he himself admits that “the person he was today was not the person he was before.”
As Bobby’s retelling of his story began, I realized that he is not a very likeable character; he is egotistical and flippant, which inhibits the reader from connecting with him. However, his redeeming feature is that he accepts he needs to change and, as the novel progresses, Morton reveals Bobby’s vulnerability, loyalty, and commitment to his goal. In part, Bobby’s change of personality is due to his new relationship with Bryan Van Owen and also due to Bobby’s understanding that he is the only one who can save Adam.
Although Bobby is not my favorite romantic hero, Morton builds a series of secondary characters who add to the story. Tomas, Conrad, and Adam are mysterious and Conrad, in particular, is the character who causes the reader the most discomfort, especially when his true identity is revealed. Adam is totally loveable because of his innocence, isolation, and distress. Unfortunately, I felt that Morton destroys this perception of Adam, and the “new” Bobby, as the curse is broken and I wondered whether this was really necessary for Adam’s HEA.
The character I enjoyed the most is Ursula. From the beginning of The Trouble with Off-Campus Housing, the reader understands the close, but platonic, relationship between Ursula and Bobby and how she is often the one to bring him back down to earth. Ursula is drag queen extraordinaire; much more comfortable with this female persona than as the Morris she was born as. Ursula is a strong personality and I loved her sense of humor:
“Girl you know that makes no sense right?” Ursula asked shaking his head at Bobby’s stubbornness. “I think you have done flipped your damn head, baby and become discomboobulated.” Ursula smiled at his own wordplay, quite amused with his own wit.
So, The Trouble with Off-Campus Housing has humor, mystery, sex, and romance; it should be the ideal novel for me, but in my opinion it is Morton’s writing style that lets the story down. The plot becomes disjointed when chapters veer off on a tangent, usually as the reader is involved in events and a character interrupts with past memories. When the story continues it is difficult to remember what was taking place.
Morton’s descriptions are often long-winded and the vocabulary used does not fit with Bobby who is apparently a “dictionary of slang.” I admit that this diverging and rambling prose was the main reason I did not fully enjoy The Trouble with Off-Campus Housing and feel unable to give it a firm recommendation, although I am sure that there are readers who will feel differently.