It’s International Week at Joyfully Jay and I could think of no better author to spotlight than Roe Horvat and their novel, Dirty Mind. For this week’s reading challenge, I wanted to head somewhere I had never traveled to myself just to experience the flavor of that country, and with this novel set in the small town of Freiburg, Germany, it was a perfect fit. I have read other work by this author and I was excited to delve into this one as I knew the quality of the writing would be outstanding—I was not disappointed.
Alexander Popescu is a quiet English professor by day and a successful erotic porn writer by night. Hiding his lucrative second career is fairly easy since he writes under a pen name and rarely shares what he writes with others. Alex is also a bit of an intellectual snob and he knows it keeps him from finding both easy hookups and lasting relationships. When he spies a young man come into the bar he’s at one evening, Alex can’t help but keep an eye on him; the fact the young man is stunning doesn’t hurt. One by one, as men sashay up to hit on the gorgeous man, Alex watches and when one slime ball comes on a bit too strong, Alex inserts himself into the pickup attempt by pretending to be the young man’s date. One thing leads to another and before he can blink, Alex has a new friend and the two spend the next few years keeping in touch online, by phone and with occasional visits.
Christian is a nice boy—he has to be since his very controlling mother expects nothing less than perfection from him. In Alex, Christian has found both a friend and a confidant—someone who doesn’t judge him, but accepts him as who he is and never pushes him to be anything more. The two men develop a close relationship and everything is just fine until Alex learns that Chris is transferring to Frieburg to attend medical school. The long distance relationship Alex had with Chris was great, mostly because it allowed Alex to believe that the feelings he had for Chris were platonic and casual. With Chris now so close by, Alex can no longer deny that he is slowly falling for the young med student and he is all too aware of the ten plus year age gap and that he could never keep someone as bright and beautiful as Christian satisfied.
I want to find the words to express both the wit and intelligence behind the dialogue that Roe Horvat writes into his story. I simply loved Alex—his panic at both discovering he wanted Chris on a physical level and his fear over Chris discovering he wrote erotic novels was truly hilarious. He worked so hard not to fall in love with his young protégé and the moments when he ran from situations where he found himself lusting over Chris were both humorous and poignant. That takes some skill as a writer to turn an awkward and, at times, painful moment into something clever and droll. But not once does Horvat cheapen the scene by going for the obvious; rather, they use each one to reveal just a bit more about Alex discovering how far he has fallen for Chris and all the torture that realization brings. You see, Alex is scared—not just because of the age difference, although that is huge, but also because Chris is just starting out on the path of discovering what it is to be independent and have relationships. So, Alex has convinced himself that Chris will surely grow bored of someone as jaded as Alex feels himself to be. By writing the raw feelings that motivate Alex, the author makes the character a sort of everyman—someone we can all relate to in those moments in our own lives when we felt so inadequate or fearful we’d never measure up.
I can’t forget to mention the three side characters, Lena, Chris’ mother; Dieter, the dorm mate; and Mattias, Alex’s close friend. These three brought such interesting dynamics to the novel. Lena who continually checked up on her son via Alex in conversations that left him a neurotic mess, Dieter whose seemingly random remarks and laser-like questions often left both Chris and Alex flummoxed at his lack of filters, and Mattias, who is introduced here and whose love for the mysterious Simon from the past has left him heartbroken and would be the basis for another novel by this author. All of them are fantastic characters on their own, but their interactions with Alex allow us to see more and more of what makes him tick and how deep his fears and feelings for Chris truly run. They provided both occasional comic relief when things got emotionally tough for Alex and also proved to be fascinating people who made the story even more entertaining.
Dirty Mind was more than just a May to December romance. It was a smart, funny, and insightful. I devoured this novel and it solidified for me the idea that Roe Horvat is an incredibly talented storyteller whose stories I will never pass up. Dirty Mind comes highly recommended by me, to you.
This review is part of our Reading Challenge Month for International Week! Leave a relevant comment below and you will be entered to win a prize pack of some of our favorite International Books. Commenters will also be entered to win our amazing grand prize sponsored by Dreamspinner Press (a Kindle Fire filled with Dreamspun Desires/Beyond books, plus a 3-month subscription!). You can get more information on our Challenge Month here, and more details on International Week here, including a list of all the books in this week’s prize.