Though their relationship ended three years ago in a slow withering demise, Abe still feels the acute pain of loss every time he thinks about Harris. As winter descends upon Buffalo, NY, he thinks that it may finally be time to let it go and get back out there. When a blond Adonis named Jared walks into the gym Abe owns, his ephemeral promise suddenly feels a lot more worth pursing. That is until Jared’s girlfriend walks in and its none other than Abe’s best friend, Cassie. Rather than putting the kibosh on pursuit, however, Abe finds it all to easy to flirt with the man. Things threaten to escalate even as both Abe and Jared realize their growing flirtation could get out of hand—and that would undoubtedly be a tremendous betrayal to Cassie.
When Harris lands on Abe’s doorstep following a terrific fuck up that left him a social pariah, Abe can’t say no. But he doesn’t have to say anything at all—until Jared convinces him to at least speak to Harris to gain some closure, if not mend the bridge of friendship. The more Abe thinks about it, the more he realizes he’s never really stopped loving Harris—and with Jared’s encouragement, this just might be the push he needs to start again. Prepared to accept any explanation for what happened that day three years ago, Abe meets up with Harris, only to realize there truly is nothing left to salvage.
Nursing a broken heart, Abe turns to Jared for advice—but it turns into something more and suddenly, Abe’s got to juggle this enormous betrayal of his best friend and his growing fantasy to get a new start with Jared. Things all come crashing down, however, and suddenly, Abe realizes he hasn’t just lost the chance to rekindle anything with Harris, but he may lose his best friend and the promise of a future with Jared as well.
This is such a crap summary, but I blame it entirely on this book being too awesome with too many details to summarize into a few paragraphs to even come close to containing the depth and complexity of the threads it explores. First, the storytelling is broken into chapters told by different narrators. We have Abe, Harris, and Clare (Cassie’s mother) taking turns telling their parts in the story. Watching the story unfold between these three and how their paths intersect was nothing short of exquisite to me.
Clare is in her mid-sixties and coping with the loss of her husband several months ago and, currently, her own health issues. I love that Pacer doesn’t limit her to “just” being a mother—her experiences unfold on page with as much richness and melancholy as Abe and Harris’ do. Hers is an emotional story of finding the strength to move on—and not finding that strength. Clare is exploring what her diagnosis means and while every one of her decisions—like selling her house or shaving her head—are justified because we’re there watching the events unfold that lead her to these decisions, from an outsider’s perspective, she seems “unbalanced.” This is exactly what Jared suspects—and the primary reason that, despite Abe’s attraction to him and constant praise of him, I pretty much loved to hate Jared.
While I felt the “closest” to Abe, I ultimately started seeing him as less of the sympathetic main character are more of a flawed one. Nevertheless, I never stopped rooting for him. When he and Harris first try to patch things up and Abe pushes hard for Harris to explain, Abe cannot accept Harris’ story. Towards the end of the book, though, the truth is revealed and finally we see Abe realizing he is not blameless in the three years of pain his break-up with Harris caused. And while all this is simmering (and not in the background, so it’s not just teasers, you get the full story) there’s Abe’s thing with Jared. Despite my dislike of Jared, I liked Abe more than enough to want him to be happy—and if Jared made him happy, I was resigned to be happy to see that unfold. Except Abe can’t quite let go of the past and Jared can’t quite accept that he’s in the closet. Never mind that Jared is Cassie’s boyfriend and Cassie is Abe’s long-time best friend. I kept waiting for the shoe to drop (which it does, just not in the “caught with your pants down” kind of way). More than once, I had that “rubbernecking” phenomenon—where you can’t look away from a car accident and the like—just waiting for some explosive revelation to out Jared or end his relationship with Cassie or finish off whatever chance there was between Abe/Harris.
Harris, on the other hand, I felt was very sympathetic. He felt the most genuine to me of our three narrators. Even when he was sort of the playboy at the beginning of the book, he is quickly disabused of his belief on having universal appeal when one of his Tweets backfires spectacularly—leading him to lose his job, be kept at arm’s length by his friend, dumped by both of the men he’s seeing, and a few days later, viciously attacked in retaliation for the Tweet. Whatever playboy habits he had, his on-page presence presents a man who is beat down by his own dumb luck and exacerbated by a series of reactions he cannot control. Yet once he pulls himself out of his funk, Harris is just a genuinely honest, real guy. He goes to group therapy to start coping with his mother’s death years before. Not even when he is summarily rejected by Abe after Harris finally explains why their romance ended does Harris despair—rather, he plans and plots to make, if nothing else, amends.
I loved how each of these characters’ stories intertwined with the others. I also loved that the end of one narrator’s chapter was not always exactly where the next narrator picked up. This helped me suspend my disbelief about just how interconnected these characters are. There is a large principle cast and every character is delightfully developed and makes “sense” in their environment (well, there was was WTF moment when, halfway through the book, we learn Abe cries at the drop of a hat, a point that was entirely devoid in the first half, but consistent in the second half).
I think this would be an excellent read for anyone who appreciates a well written story. It is told with a distinctive, articulate voice and full of interesting, well-rounded characters.