Two years ago, Miguel “Mico” Pacheco was rendered a quadriplegic during a vicious gay bashing where he bodily protected his then-boyfriend Ry from the worst of it. Now, Mico’s tethered to the machinery and equipment that keep him alive. Even with his broken body and broken will, Mico refuses to identify his attackers. This extremely selfless act has not gone unnoticed by the locals and several news outlets. Mico, however, has refused to give any interviews…until Danny DeMarco.
As a writer of human interest stories for the magazine Hodge Podge, Danny DeMarco has built something of a name for himself. In fact, it is Danny’s thoughtful writing about casinos run by Native Americans that tipped the scales in his favor with Mico and his granting Hodge Podge the first-ever interview.
When these two meet, there is an undeniable connection. Danny has eyes only for Mico. Of course, there are the accoutrement Mico requires, but Danny knows Mico is the whole package with a seemingly bottomless capacity for forgiveness and love. For his part, Mico seems willing to give romance a shot…except it has to be on his terms, within his comfort zone. After a false start, the two finally make a connection and it opens eyes for everyone…not least of all Mico and his discovering he might still have a shot at a healthy, even physical, relationship with another man.
Things get moving pretty fast and there’s a steep learning curve. As the realities of day-to-day care are slowly made clear to Danny, Mico starts to pull away. What’s more, something from Mico’s past threatens to upset the tenuous relationship Danny is eager to build with Mico. By the time the dust settles, the real question is not whether Danny can handle a partnership with Mico, but if Mico can learn to let go of his past in order to have a future.
As someone who’s keen to read books that feature characters “outside of the box,” I was excited about reading this story featuring a quadriplegic main character. When Danny and Mico first meet and the tone goes straight into instalove territory, my interest took a nose dive. As I’ll explain below, the story devolved into a series of events starring characters that failed to engage me as a reader due to their portrayal as hollow caricatures of a single trait.
The disappointing characterization is slightly mitigated by the structure of the book. The action is split into two types: the “now” (told in past tense) and the flashbacks (inexplicably told in PRESENT tense). The flashbacks are straightforward, action driven prose and, for me, the only part of the book in which I found myself somewhat interested. These snippets both laid out everything that led to Mico being a quadriplegic and spelled out how all the supporting characters fit into the narrative. That said, the romance that unfolds between Mico and Danny is a huge disappointment. The events in the “now” story are crammed with so such unrealistic, convenient-to-a-fault events that the story felt wholly out of touch with reality to me.
As far as individual characters go, Danny and a side character named Randy stand out above the rest for being…well, unsuitable for their roles in the story. Initially, Danny felt pretty innocuous. I was encouraged by his apparent blindness to the the accoutrement surrounding Mico and how he focused on the person. Unfortunately, as more of the flashbacks fill Danny in on Mico’s life and times, I found him to become increasingly hateful. We see him go from a character that genuinely wants to know and acquaint himself with Mico as a person to one that deteriorates into the aforementioned hollow character who (1) sort of becomes consumed with corrosive rage at the transgressions Mico’s suffered and (2) decides the best way to “prove” his feelings are real is by unilaterally deciding what’s best for Mico. Together, these are complete and utter turn offs. Not even other characters can get Danny to reassess the life-changing decisions he’s making for Mico without Mico’s knowledge or consent, making Danny a total douche canoe in my book (Danny decides they will live together in the new house he’s just bought and furnished for them and that Danny will be Mico’s caregiver).
Randy is a pivotal character in Mico’s past. I don’t want spoil anything for any readers, but Randy is complicit in the events that lead to Mico’s becoming a quadriplegic. The whole sordid tale comes out on-page if you’re curious (and sort of opens the floodgates on Danny’s caustic emotions). On the one hand, I understand that Randy’s being welcomed into the Pacheco’s inner circle is supposed to make the reader believe in the goodness in man. Both that Randy can redeem himself and that the Pachecos (and Mico) can forgive him. At the very least, this is a vehicle that puts the Pachecos squarely in the “saintly” category. Nevertheless, I was deeply disappointed by Randy when he comes to the following conclusion (as told in one of the flashback sequences from Randy’s POV):
…I have another, what do you all it? Epiphany—yeah, I have an epiphany. Mico is a baby—having to learn simple stuff all over again and relying on people to do every fucking thing for him.
While I understand that, as a quadriplegic, Mico is incapable of doing so much, he is not a baby. Infantilizing someone, especially when that person is wholly in command of their mental capacities and is still able to have meaningful verbal interactions with people, feels deeply wrong to me.
Another point that left me reeling was how the Pacheco family, as a group, reacted to the people in Mico’s life.
(1) Despite Randy’s role in events that left Mico disabled, the Pacheco family amazingly welcomes him back into the fold. What’s more, Randy serves as one of Mico’s primary caregivers. I suppose the fact that Randy is the nephew of a man who is a long-, long-time employee of Mico’s father is supposed to be enough of a reason to allow Randy to stay close to the family. In all fairness, the Randy we see in the “now” story does seem devoted to Mico (except that sentiment is tainted by the excerpt above where, to me, it feels like Randy’s trying to “buy” forgiveness by serving Mico). I found it disappointing that the story never bothered to explore the theme of loving someone who’s done horrible things…there’s just a previous connection that is expected to explain it all away.
(2) Danny is warned off starting anything with Mico that he can’t finish. There are a handful of situations where Danny’s actions threaten to break Mico’s heart. Leaving Mico unattended in his wheelchair down by the river, for example. The family swoops in to either literally keep Danny away or try to convince him to stay away. Yet they allow Danny back each time to press his case. The mixed signals are strong when it comes to Danny. Again, this feels understandable in the context of Pachecos vs. Danny.
(3) Ry was Mico’s boyfriend in nearly all the flashback sequences. Pains are taken to highlight their relationship and it’s portrayed as one shared between two college-aged men who are completely smitten with each other. They have the same goals and dreams, similar ideas for a shared future. There is no shortage of (young?) love shining between these two prior to Mico becoming a quadriplegic. After the attack, however, things fall spectacularly apart. To the Pachecos, Ry’s behavior is unforgivable. I won’t argue one way or the other, but it felt like a slap in the face to see the Pacheco clan welcome Randy back with open arms, give Danny chance after chance, but when Ry lashes out (granted it was horrible, but at the same time, it follows the attack close enough that someone should have realized part of his behavior could be down to monumental stress/distress), the Pachecos are vicious and unforgiving to this young man who was targeted for a hate crime just like Mico. I burned with loathing for the Pachecos for treating Ry like an utter pariah when he finally came around; they treated Ry like garbage, never mind that just two years prior, he and Mico were in what was shown to be a devoted, loving relationship.
Taken as a whole, the consistently haphazard reactions this family of supposed adults has to the people in Mico’s life was nothing short of frustrating and confusing.
One final point of irritation was how several places where the prose felt socially tone-deaf. For example, there are at least two points in the story where Danny (DANNY!) straight up views Mico as being helpless (see earlier sentiments about infantilizing adults). Elsewhere, Mico comments that he feels like a “man” because he (albeit accidentally) fends off a would-be attacker, which I found bothersome because—to me at least—it connotes the stereotype that men (as in, stereotypical Y-chromosome sporting bearers of cock and balls) are the ones capable of defending house and home, life and limb whereas anyone outside that stereotype is not. Danny also made comments that I thought were trans-phobic:
“…I wrote and article for Hodge Podge a few years back about the town [Trinidad, CO] and its notoriety as the sex change capital of the world…”
“Wait, you met with Dr. Bowers? Is there…uh…something you haven’t told me?”
“Liiiiike whaaat?” I teased.
“Well, Danny, she’s world-renowed for her expertise in gender-reassignment surgery.”
“I said I met her, not that I met with her. I assure you , Mico, I’m gay—not gay and trans.”
Once again, for a book that ostensibly would focus on the power of love overcoming the lovers’ differences, the implication here is that loving someone who is trans is a bridge too far.
Overall, this book was a huge disappointment on all fronts. The characters failed to highlight the positive and their behavior, words, and deeds served only to accentuate negatives that really need not have been present. The writing is tired and infantile with overuse of alliteration that ends up grating on the reader. This is a hard, hard pass for me.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.