An attempted rape thirteen years ago has left Matt Bowers a prisoner in his own home. Fear and panic control nearly every aspect of his daily life. He has isolated himself from the rest of the word, including his family. He lives a quiet existence on an empty road and goes weeks without seeing anyone. And then a man begins to run by his house, a daily predictable act that throws Matt’s carefully ordered routine into chaos.
Charlie Carver knows Matt is a recluse and he never does anything more than run by the man’s house as a part of his circuit. Until the day he waves and Matt waves back. What follows is the slow blossoming of friendship and then love. Matt is far from where he needs to be, but having Charlie in his life may just help him take he first step towards recovery.
Runner was a sweet romance between two men who were incomplete until they found one another. The first half of the book is exceptionally strong and the characters really shine through. The last of the book becomes overly sappy and the well ordered pace turns chaotic.
Matt is living with PTSD and OCD, both the remnants of a horrible attack he endured as a child. He has closed himself off from the world almost completely. As long as nothing disrupts his routine he does fine. At first you really feel for Matt. He’s been abused and by someone he should have been able to trust. His reclusiveness makes sense given what he’s endured. But it becomes obvious that Matt is a martyr to his fear, to the point he’s willing to hurt those around him in order to protect himself. And while again this is understandable, it can make his character hard to like sometimes. Charlie is the true happy go lucky soul who tends to roll with the punches even the rough ones. He comes off as a little too perfect, seeming never to show even a moment’s frustration with Matt’s extreme issues. Matt’s brother Clay comes off as more realistic. He loves his brother, but he’s put his own life on hold for 13 years and he’s reached his last straw. He tends to be blunt with Matt where Charlie is often coddling.
The slow burn between Matt and Charlie during the first half of the book is wonderful. Casual waves lead to glasses of lemonade and discussions about books. Theirs is a friendship before love and it feels believable. But that disappears and Matt’s progress towards recovery starts to develop at a somewhat unrealistic pace. He still has problems, but it seems as long as Charlie is in his life he can do anything. And while the “love heals all” idea is wonderfully romantic, its not terribly relatable. I even think it’s a bit dangerous where mental health is concerned. Towards the end of book, there is brief mention of Matt’s return to therapy and new medications, but these are given short shrift. Love is a wonderful elixir but it’s hardly a panacea and I think when it’s portrayed as such it invalidates the characters to some extent and their struggle to heal. Additionally, the book went on a bit too long. I wrap this into a pacing issue as every time I thought Runner came to a good stopping point there were three additional chapters that didn’t really do much save draw out the story. Perhaps as much as the last fourth of the book felt more like filler than substance.
I’ve grumbled a bit about Runner to be sure but it is a very sweet and tender story. And because I’m a big ole sap, I love that sort of thing. Matt and Charlie are endearing men and their struggles often feel deeply intense. I have problems with the pacing and evolution of the book’s second half, but I’m in no way suggesting it lacks merits. If you want a lot of angst and sweet moments, you will likely enjoy Runner.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.