Narrator: Joel Leslie
Length: 6 hours, 23 minutes
When cocktail waiter Lionel finds himself in bed with last night’s hookup, he is understandably freaked out. Lionel doesn’t even know “Dog’s” real name, and the softball playing jock is not at all the flamboyant Lionel’s usual type. Yes, the sex was hot. At least what he remembers through his drunken memories. But clearly these guys are not a good fit.
Doug is out… mostly. He plays on the bar’s gay softball team, but his family still doesn’t know he’s gay. And honestly, even though his friends know he is gay, no one will understand Lionel. Whereas Doug passes for straight most of the time, Lionel decidedly could not. Even being around Lionel sometimes makes Doug uncomfortable. And yet… there is something between them that he can’t fully put out of his mind.
Even though both Lionel and Doug think they are massively wrong for each other, they still find themselves drawn together. And as they get to know one another, the physical attraction between them begins to grow into something more serious. However, things aren’t all easy. Doug is having a hard time fully coming to terms with his attraction to Lionel, not to mention facing the idea of coming out to his parents. And Lionel has always felt secure in himself, but a job working in a new bar where he is forced to play straight is causing him to begin to reevaluate whether he is really being true to himself. Now the guys must decide the person they each truly want to be, and then figure out if they are really meant for one another.
Femme is a story that had me laughing out loud from the start and kept me entertained throughout the story. There is definitely humor here, but Marshall Thornton also manages to give both the story and the characters real depth. The book is dual narrated from both Lionel and Doug’s POVs, and it is a great way to get insight into these guys as they go through their journey not only to love, but also to figuring out more about their own self identity.
Doug is mostly out at the start of the story, with gay friends and a role on the gay softball team. But he definitely has issues he is working through. He is not out to his family, but he also has some hangups about more femme men. Part of him is hot for Lionel, but the other part worries (a lot) about what other people will think when they see Lionel sashaying around with his glittery clothes and swishy walk. Doug is a jock and mostly can pass for straight and most of his buddies can too. So there is some prejudice, both internal and from his friends, that Doug has to acknowledge and work through. It isn’t all easy. Doug has some majorly dickish moments, and there were times where I kind of thought Lionel should be bailing on his ass as Doug lets him down significantly (though mostly out of his own fear). But Thornton also does a nice job helping us to understand what Doug is feeling and how he is processing all this. When Doug is being an asshole, he is pretty darn aware of that fact, and even remorseful. He is just sometimes struggling too much within himself to do much about it. So I loved seeing Doug’s growth here as he comes to terms with what he wants, learns to stand up for himself and for Lionel, and puts aside others’ expectations of the type of person he should be and who he should want to love.
Lionel’s journey is not quite as direct as Doug’s is here, but still an interesting one. At the start of the book, he seems pretty confident in himself. He is flamboyant and fabulous and is pretty sure he doesn’t care much what other people think. But he faces one of his own hangups as he falls for a jock like Doug. And even more of a shakeup is when Lionel gets a job in a non-gay bar and decides he must pretend to be straight to fit in. Suddenly Lionel, who could never even find the closet, is hiding back in it. As he and Doug work through their relationships and Doug’s own issues, Lionel too begins to think about who he is and whether he acts more for others expectations or his own desires.
I listened to this one in audio and totally loved Joel Leslie’s narration. He gets the voices for Lionel and Doug just perfectly, from Lionel’s bit of a lilt, to Doug’s more gruff voice. While these guys are sort of in the flamboyant and jock molds, they never come across like stereotypes and there is a lot of nuance in their portrayal. Doug and Lionel are both alternating POV characters and Leslie manages to infuse each of their chapters with their voice and personality.
I also enjoyed the side characters here. Lionel’s friend Carlos is sort of the comic relief sidekick and Leslie portrays him perfectly in a way that plays well off of Lionel. The other side characters also have voices that work well and it is easy to tell them all apart, with nice consistency over the course of the story.
The tagline for Femme is “Be yourself, everyone else is taken” and that is a message that really resonates in the book. I think Thornton does a wonderful job with this story, and Leslie’s narration really brings it to life. Even as these guys are dealing with some more serious introspection, there is a overtone of fun and humor that infuses the book throughout, and that particularly comes through in the narration. I could really see the growth these guys experience over the course of the story and the way they begin to figure themselves out. I enjoyed this one thoroughly and would definitely recommend it in book or audio form.