For Ethan, there is only one way his long-term relationship with Toby could possibly be improved: marriage. Unfortunately for Ethan, he knows Toby is a staunch believer in the idea that a marriage license does not a commitment make. Ethan has known Toby’s point of view all along and at first and he’s okay with that. Or at least he thought he was. It’s not that Ethan is afraid Toby is loosing interest—Toby is very much attuned to Ethan’s needs and desires. Rather, Ethan wants the kind of security and permanence of being married, a formal commitment from the man he loves that their lives are bound together.
When Ethan’s sister decides to renew her wedding vows, the whole family is called into action. Even Ethan, despite the crushing work load he carries as the head of a design company, gets called home to Minnesota to partake. The holiday was supposed to be a chance for Ethan and Toby to escape the craziness of their California lives. Instead of reaffirming their connection, however, Ethan feels a rift forming between him and Toby. Day after day, he watches as Toby seems to eschew his company in favor of, well, anything else. To make matters worse, his entire family abscond with Toby every day to leave Ethan alone and stressed out at his childhood home.
Ethan reaches a tipping point when his sister’s ceremony completely eclipses the holiday. Feeling completely rejected by the very people who are supposed to be his emotional foundation, Ethan is determined to fly home to California alone where he can sever his relationship with the man he loves in private so they can both be free to find the kinds of relationships they need.
If Toby is going to have any hope of salvaging his relationship with Ethan, he’s going to have to do some heavy lifting—and Ethan’s not convinced he’s up to the task.
Wow! This is such a short little story, I literally read the whole thing in about an hour. AND YET it totally satisfied. Roberts portrays her two main characters, Ethan and Toby, with great warmth and depth I never would have expected to find in such a quick read.
Ethan is a creative director who’s worked hard to hit it big despite being only 25 years old. The story shows how hard he works to balance the demands of his high-responsibility/high-stress job with his personal life. Given that the story is told from Ethan’s end of things, the reader gets to live through the ups and downs of the emotional roller coaster he never thought he’d find himself riding. I really enjoyed being privy to his thought process as he confronts one disappointment after another because it reflects the kinds of situations and choices anyone might face. These two excerpts sum up Ethan’s predicament well, I think:
I sipped my coffee and wondered why Toby had been so insistent on the trip when we weren’t spending any of it together. The entire time he talked about this trip, from breaking the news of the tickets to the conversations we had on the plane, everything had been phrased in “we” statements…yet I was the only one here.
This is said after several instances of Ethan being left entirely alone at his childhood home. In the meantime, his parents are treating his boyfriend like a bone fide family member (despite the absence of a ring), making all Ethan’s favorites and not sharing any with him, and fawning all over the preparations for Gigi’s (Ethan’s sister) vow renewal ceremony. In short, what starts off as jealousy that Gigi gets TWO weddings (and in less than a year), no one can see how desperately he wants that for himself…or worse, he thinks no one cares. These feelings go round and round and are reinforced in various other situations (like eating all the treats and having to remake them…only to find out he didn’t have to; sharing space with three huge dogs; watching his parents pay more attention to his boyfriend and ignore him).
It all comes to a head when Toby returns after being absent with Ethan’s family all day, again, and Ethan can’t even get a straight answer out of Toby.
“Did you shovel?” I asked.
“No. I was…out with your mom. She needed help hauling something.”
“Oh.” More secret missions. I took a steadying breath and gave him what I knew was nothing more than a pathetic smile. “I need to get back home. I have more work that came in.” It was a lie, but…I didn’t want to get into how I was truly feeling at my parents’ house. We could break up back in our own house, where Mom and Dad didn’t have to witness me acting hurt and rejected. That way they also couldn’t tell me I was throwing away the best thing that had ever happened to me and I should be happy with what I’ve got. But no, I wanted more and from a man who refuse anything more.
What I particularly liked about the story is how the characters are introduced and we’re not just TOLD they’re in love, but we get to SEE that they are. Despite Ethan’s increasingly deepening feelings of rejection from Toby, when the two do have a rare moment together while on the trip to Minnesota, the on-page action reaffirms their connection. To the reader, it seems clear that these two are still very much in love with each other. At the same time, I was definitely sympathetic to Ethan’s emotions and how he can still feel like Toby’s low-key rejecting him.
I won’t say much about the ending except that it left me a bit turned off but that I can probably chalk that up to my own pop-culture habits (the end felt commercialized to me, but that wasn’t the intent of the author nor do I think everyone else would get the same sense of consumerism in reading it that I did). I will say that, despite the big finish, there is still a snippet of a scene where Toby and Ethan get to talk about Ethan’s feelings over the holiday. I would have loved to have seen even more of that, or at least gotten a bigger snippet but I’m still pleased they get to come clean about what and why Ethan was such a pill.
Overall, the characters in Analog to Digital are fun to read. Ethan is especially interesting because he goes through the same kinds of disappointments we all do and reacts in ways we all have—unable to hid his dismay or straight up bad attitude, but still conscious of trying to not let it affect anyone else’s enjoyment. It’s got a HEA ending that’s not entirely predictable and Roberts puts in a token effort to get the two of them to address the drama that we see unfold on-page to bring a better sense of closure at the end of the story.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.