Leo Taylor has carried a torch for one of his colleagues—his slightly older, very suave, cooly aloof colleague named Jack Gordon—for not less than four years. He always put their easy repertoire down to the fact that they were both men who were interested in other men. As long as Leo was patient, he had hope that one day, Jack would turn to him and suddenly, their romance would begin.
Until his friend Sarah informs him Jack was engaged…to a woman. Leo decides the mature thing to do is (A) avoid Jack at all work functions and (B) divulge all his hurt feelings into a diary.
As he’s nursing a broken crush, Leo gets acquainted with the man who lives across the hall from him, Alex. Their first meeting was something of a fluke. The night they first met, Leo was far too drunk to remember anything beyond getting to his apartment building safely, never mind just how far above and beyond the call of neighborly duty Alex went to ensure his neighbor didn’t meet a premature demise and drown in his own vomit. It doesn’t take long before casual greetings in the hallway open the door to a true friendship, starting with Alex volunteering to take care of Leo’s dog.
When Jack ends up flaking out on Leo time and time again, Alex steps up to be the decent human being Jack cannot. Alex offers to watch Leo’s dog, chauffeur Leo to the airport, and teach Leo to cook. When the two find themselves on a date, Leo has to know if Alex is just going through a phase. All this goes down while Jack is persistent in trying to woo Leo, a man who is suddenly all the more attractive to Jack because he’s now off the market.
Would-be lovers aside, the tension really begins to rise when Leo takes Alex to meet his parents in a very upscale, posh section of town. Both men feel a pressing sense of anxiety for various, deep-rooted reasons. When a few thoughtless comments strike far deeper than either speaker intended, things threaten to unravel. Leo and Alex must take a hard look at what they want out of their relationship and what they expect of their partner…if it’s not too late to repair the damage already done.
So I picked this book up Saturday night with the intent of just getting a feel for who the characters were and what the set-up was going to be like. By the time it was time to feed my cat breakfast, I had finished the book. I did consider putting it down at about 3 am, but I was more than halfway done by that point. Suffice to say, I really enjoyed this book.
The action takes place in England. Leo and Jack are professors at a university; both have PhDs. Alex is a personal trainer at a gym. Ford does a great job balancing Jack and Alex in Leo’s journal entries. Given that Alex doesn’t figure into the narrative until a few journal entries into the book, I spent the first quarter or so of the book rooting for Jack/Leo. After a scene where Jack stands Leo up (i.e. Jack never goes to Leo’s apartment to pick Leo up for the outing they had arranged), Alex plays a huge role in helping Leo salvage his night—not the least because if Jack DOES come by, he’ll see that Leo isn’t hard-pressed for company. Even then, I was wondering if perhaps Alex was just going to be a foil, a character to make Jack just jealous enough to finally throw his lot in with Leo.
As the story progresses, we see that Jack is actually the kind of person who is just naturally (and unapologetically) attracted to partners he can’t have. I loved watching Leo finally figure out his white knight was pretty tarnished. Ford does a great job ratcheting up the tension in scenes where Jack tries to press his suit with Leo time and again—usually in Leo’s office at the university. Each time we go to the university, I was on tenterhooks wondering if maybe this time, Leo would capitulate. This got more difficult to get excited about the longer the story goes on and the closer Alex and Leo become.
Apart from the dynamic relationships Leo has with Alex and Jack, there are a whole host of supporting characters. The friends and family that surround Leo really made him pop as a character for me. He’s got a high-achieving sister and his parents are never shy about reminding him about how successful she is, yet there’s not a strong sense of sibling rivalry. In fact, his sister having a baby creates a couple of situations where Alex gets to prove he’s an all around good guy. Also stemming from his sister’s having a baby is a scene where Leo volunteers to take his parents and his sister’s husband’s parent out for drinks, dinner, and some performing arts just so the new parents can have a few hours peace. Plus, there are all of Leo’s fabulous friends, who are nothing but supportive and funny.
I really enjoyed the epistolary prose. Ford writes Leo in a very realistic way and I enjoyed how funny the journal entries could be. Below are a few examples:
From an entry where Leo’s recounting his night out with his friends, Amelia and Mark, who are married, and Lucy, after they find out Jack’s officially off the market:
[Amelia] was getting loud. She is a large, boisterous woman.
“Yeah, [Jack] looked like a prick,” Mark said. “No huge loss there.”
“Wow, thanks,” I said. “So here’s to my evening of not talking or thinking about [Jack].”
At this point, Lucy hit the table with her pint, spilling half her beer and shouting, “What? Mate, that’s not how you get over a guy. You know what they say. The best way to get over someone is to get under someone. You need to get yourself some mangina, love.”
“That sounds gross,” I said. “I’m pretty sure I was vaccinated against it.
“Lucy’s totally right,” Amelia said. “No use moping about it, like I know you love to do, locking yourself in and reading romantic poetry, and thinking about how…I don’t know…Tristan and Isolde is really about two men, or something.” How did she know? “You need to get out there!” …
It’s not that I didn’t want to discuss the issue with them, but to get love advice from a married couple was like getting advice from your mother. They don’t know what the real world’s like anymore. They live after the happily ever after—a sort of bubble in which small things don’t even exist. Like wondering whether you can be with someone who said they’d never read Asimov.
Or this entry from when Alex and Leo are on their first date:
“What are you?”
“I’m a human male,” [Alex] said, blinking at me in confusion.
“Yes, thank you, that’s not what I mean. You’re straight? Gay? Bi? What?”
“Yeah, I think I’m that last one,” he said. “Or I was. Lately, I don’t know. I was never completely straight, if that helps.”
And this one, after Alex and Leo have had their falling out and Leo’s staying at Lucy’s apartment to avoid awkwardness with Alex (who still lives in the apartment across from Leo’s):
Having run out of sensible cloths for the rapidly worsening weather, and not wishing to look and smell like a tramp when I go to work, forced me to go home at last. Lucy came with me for moral support. As it turns out, and perhaps not to anybody’s surprise, I’m a giant baby who needs to grow some balls. Although Lucy assured me that I could make better use with ovaries.
“Balls are so fucking delicate,” she said. “Grow a pair of ovaries. We make humans with those, and you can hit them if you want, and there’s no way they’d get trapped in a zip.”
“You’re a poet,” I told her lovingly.
Overall, I found this book immensely pleasurable to read. I loved how well Leo’s character gets developed and that both he himself and the people that surround him feel like three-dimensional characters, even if they aren’t featured in every scene. Each character brings something different to the mix and it’s hard to say any one of them is a clear cut trope (Jack comes super close, but even he knows his behavioral flaws). If you’re looking for a clever book featuring an endearing main character surrounded by a cast of interesting supporting characters and a love story that’s both sweet, comfortable, and at times a bit painful as they work out the kinks, I would definitely recommend Lovesick.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press