Regan is a newly graduated, 22-year-old gay man with a degree in art history and teaching English as a second language. He has an offer for a position at an art museum, but he’s made plans to first travel for a week to Ho Chi Minh City (also called Saigon), Vietnam and teach English and basketball to a school filled with disabled children. Regan loves basketball with all his heart and soul, but he suffers a degenerative bone disease, and a back injury two years ago left him off the court and managing chronic pain. He expects this week will be the last he ever plays of his beloved game.
The first day he arrives, the kids all call him “Ray-gun,” and Ray meets his unexpected roomie—a suave, Singaporean-Aussie named Xin. Ray is attracted to Xin, but he’s not willing to make a move, even after Xin reveals he’s also gay. Ray’s back injuries have made him feel as if he can’t be a full partner to another man, as sex often brings more pain than pleasure. Besides, Ray’s not a “fling” type of guy. To be willing to risk the pain, he needs to trust his partner.
As the week goes on, Ray and Xin spend a whole lot of time together, both relaxing and in work. Xin is a master at matching wealthy donors with enticing tax-deductible charities, like the school where Ray is working. It’s clear that Xin comes from wealth, but Ray doesn’t pick up on the full scope of that until Xin asks him to extend his layover in Singapore on his return trip. Before that, however, Ray and Xin break Ray’s “no casual flings” rule after a few too many drinks on his last night in Vietnam. Well, Ray didn’t think the way they interacted was casual, and he was desperate to end his magical (and quietly pain-filled) trip on a super high note.
For me, as a reader naïve to Vietnam, I really enjoyed the social and cultural lessons that Ray learned while visiting. He didn’t do a lot of travel for himself, and that was a shame—to me. I got that this trip was some sort of homage to basketball—but also to his grandfather who was a Vietnam veteran. As a person who’s suffered chronic back issues since childhood, I got the struggle Ray faced, and how he tried to hide it. His point-of-view was a big adjustment, as a reader, because it’s really hectic, and filled with cultural and sports references and allusions that can be baffling. I didn’t really get his obsession with basketball, but I did get that this sport meant more to him than just about anything, and losing his ability to play it was tantamount to cutting off a piece of his soul.
The attraction between Ray and Xin is complicated by Ray’s unwillingness to be honest about his chronic pain issues. It felt so juvenile, and his hot-and-cold act certainly put Xin off, and on, and off again. So, it was a little surprising that they had any steamy moments, at all. The romance didn’t strike a balance between Ray’s wonder at the new environments he’s experiencing, his muted attraction to Xin, and his pain issues. That said, once Xin understood about Ray’s injuries and limitations, he is a careful and patient lover, and their chemistry felt much stronger.
For me, the “love” end came too fast. Ray and Xin have scarcely a week together, and they’re talking about a trans-Pacific arrangement? And that’s setting aside cost, because Xin’s loaded. I struggled to believe that such a fierce connection was built in such a short time. I’m always looking for the deep and lasting connection, and this story didn’t quite get me there. Still, I liked the descriptions of the different locales, and wished I’d had more scope to feel Ray’s experience of both Vietnam and Singapore. The random and flighty POV grew on me, and I would have enjoyed traveling with Ray a while longer and really getting a deep impression of both places. There were opportunities to describe the unique foods, and sites, and customs, that weren’t taken because we had so much chatter about Ray’s disappointment over his back trouble, and his shattered hoop dreams. Though this book wasn’t quite a hit for me, it might strike a chord with readers who really love basketball, interracial romances, or Southeast Asian cultures.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.