Lionel and Doug (aka Dog) have been together about six months (or “one Super Bowl, a March Madness, and an entire hockey season if you don’t count the championship games,” according to Dog). Things seem to be going well until Lionel reads a magazine quiz that claims that couples must have something in common to survive. Since Dog and Lionel are about as different as two guys can be, Lionel is sure this is spelling doom for the two of them. They attempt to find some common interests by joining a gay bowling league, and while that helps, Lionel is still unconvinced.
When Dog is profiled in his employee newsletter, that makes things even worse. Dog is proud that he has used this opportunity to come out fully at work. However, the article’s focus on how masculine Dog is and how he defies gay stereotypes upsets Lionel to the point that the relationship seems even more doomed. It doesn’t help that the HR guy who wrote the story is hot for Dog and isn’t interested in taking no for an answer. The guys found a way to make it work despite their differences. Now they have to figure out how to work through this latest conflict and remember what brought them together in the first place.
Masc is the followup to Marshall Thornton’s delightful Femme and reunites us with Lionel and Dog. I really enjoyed that first story and was excited to see Thornton revisit these guys, this time with a bit of a shift in focus. While in the first book we delved into Lionel and his being a more femme guy, here we look at the perceptions and expectations for a guy like Dog who is more traditionally masculine. I enjoyed getting this other side to the perspective and I think Thornton brings up some interesting issues, particularly when dealing with Dog’s reactions to things and whether that fits into people’s ideas on masculinity. And I enjoyed visiting with these guys again.
I will admit, however, I did have some struggles with this one. First off, I am not a big fan of seeing an existing couple’s happiness threatened by relationship drama in a subsequent story. And this situation seemed all drama to me. The idea that Lionel would freak out totally over a magazine quiz to the point that he is certain the relationship is doomed just seemed absurd. Yes, not totally out of character, but it just seemed so flimsy a premise upon which to hang the book’s conflict. I found myself somewhat exasperated with him. Neither of these guys seem capable of talking to one another either, a fact that is kind of discouraging six months into their relationship.
While I found the first book really funny, here it didn’t quite have the same vibe. Dog’s family’s antics felt annoying at times, particularly his sister whose bossiness and unwillingness to ever admit being wrong is seemingly supposed to be charming and amusing, but instead I found myself irritated at her behavior. Perhaps the fact that I listened to the first book in audio and read this one in ebook contributed to that, but I just didn’t feel the same humorous zip here.
I also found myself really bothered by the sexual harassment subplot. Despite what I just said about not finding the story as funny as the first, there is still a clearly humorous tone to the book and this issue then felt like it wasn’t given the weight it deserved. Dog’s HR guy is totally inappropriate with him — grabbing his crotch at work, refusing to take no for an answer, stalking him in bathrooms, the works. Honestly, there were times when the scenes made my stomach turn. And I think Thornton does a nice job here relating it to Dog’s issues with masculinity and his fear that no one would take him seriously as a man filing a complaint, or his worries that men can’t be harassed like women can. But at the same time, the whole thing just seemed to be handled with way too light a touch. Even the way things are resolved is played a bit for laughs, not to mention it is a solution that is fairly unrealistic, as well as out of reach for most people. So it left me feeling frustrated that this awful situation is happening with no real recourse and not taken quite seriously enough.
So overall I had mixed feelings here. I enjoyed seeing the guys together again and I liked how the story eventually came together. With the exception of the sexual harassment subplot, Thornton does a good job combining a light tone, while also addressing some more serious issues and making them both work together. But I found myself frustrated at times and wishing for a bit more humor and a little more communication between them.