Caleb Youngblood and Sebastian Rush have been a couple for six months, though their relationship remains a secret from everyone but their families. The reason for this is Caleb’s father’s insistence that the NASCAR world is not ready for an openly gay driver in their sport.
Caleb’s father just wants to protect his younger son, which is why he has decided that Caleb should no longer drive for the family team, Youngblood Racing, putting the company’s time and effort into Caleb’s older brother, Garrison. When Caleb realizes this harsh reality, he decides to take his relationship with Sebastian to the next level by moving in with him, and coming out to an online sports reporter. However, when Youngblood Racing need Caleb, does his confession mean he can’t return to the sport he loves?
Starting His Engine is obviously set amongst the world of NASCAR, which I think is an interesting and original choice by W.S. Long. Though this is a predominantly American sport, Long does not alienate his readers from other parts of the world because this is less a story about the sport itself and more about the family dynamics that drive these characters, as well as the romance. Long approaches the subject of gay men being closeted within the sport well, though it is sad to think that in this day and age that this is actually the case. I feel that, therefore, we readers respect Caleb for his honesty and I found myself cheering him on when he returned to the racetrack.
I wanted to be angry with Earl Youngblood for encouraging Caleb to keep his sexuality a secret, but Long works hard to ensure his reader understands the older man and that actually he has accepted his son and loves him no matter what; he is just afraid of the fallout.
At only 28 pages, Starting His Engine is a short read, but still satisfying. Long’s story-telling technique is engaging in the way that he builds up to a significant event, then ends the chapter on a cliffhanger of sorts and begins the next with a new scene and usually the aftermath of the event. When this happened, for example in the case of an accident, I found this unusual and surprising, but this also makes sense because of the words it saves for more important parts of the story — in this case, some key conversations in the hospital afterward.
Sebastian and Caleb’s romance is key in Starting His Engine and I very rarely read books in which the relationship is already established. For the purposes of this being a short story, I think this scenario works better. From the outset of Starting His Engine we understand the depth of feeling between Sebastian and Caleb and the “I love yous” do not seem misplaced. Long creates a couple who are stronger together and there are developments in their relationship that encourage us to care about them and their future together.
Long’s sex scenes are explicit, but in my opinion, not too frequent. Instead, I sensed that sex was an extended way for the men to express their emotions. Unfortunately though, for me, these scenes were lacking passion and contained a little too much technical detail.
Although there is a NASCAR connection in Starting His Engine, it is really an examination of relationships: those within a family and between two men. Starting His Engine is the first story I have read by Long and I am now moving on to see how Sebastian and Caleb continue in Too Tough To Tame.