At 52, Eddie Smith has seen a few things and met a few people. Right now, Dr. Bob Jenkins and Mario Ossler, billionaire gay power couple, are the most consequential people in his life. It is at their request that Eddie embarks on a trip to Texas with the vague aspiration of helping newly retired football star Whit Hall straighten out his life. Eddie is not and never has considered himself any sort of life coach, but he does have a knack for helping people figure out not only what they want, but how to go after it. Less helpful is the fact that Bob and Mario sent Eddie on this mission under false pretenses: Whit believes Eddie is a potential client for Whit’s personal training efforts.
Eddie and Whit manage to clear the air between them…but what’s left in the wake is a strong attraction that has both men on edge. For Eddie, part of the issue stems from the sheer age difference between him and 35-year-old former tight-end. Whit, on the other hand, is so deeply in the closet he may never come out—despite sending clear signals that he’s interested in Eddie. It also doesn’t help that Whit’s parents are still very much a factor in his life. Even if Whit manages to admit to himself that he is gay, surmounting the challenge of coming clean to his parents may be too steep a cost.
The age difference in this book is part of what attracted me to it. I think the physical embodiments and life experiences Eddie and Whit bring to the story make for an interesting mix of character elements. Whit is the hot, young, wealthy guy and Eddie is the older, wiser voice of reason. Whit’s career as a professional athlete and his upbringing in a hyper-conservative, hyper-wealthy family have necessarily shaped his world view. He is very image conscious, and it seemed like that was a big reason why he was so reluctant to come out. I find it interesting that despite the fact that Eddie’s got life experience and, if the references to his past experiences “life coaching” others are any indication, a good head for helping others, I thought he lacked any meaningful personality. He’s got a lot of character traits that make him stand out, but him personally? I didn’t feel there was much to go on. The most interesting facet of Eddie’s persona is the fact that he has a sort of alternate personality, named “Paul,” who is actually responsible for much of Eddie’s insight as a life coach…yet this element of Eddie felt woefully underdeveloped.
Part of my difficulty in connecting with Eddie might stem from the first-person narration style. There were several places where the narration contains inane details. When Eddie needs to make a phone call, for example, the prose includes pointless details like setting up his Bluetooth device and unlocking the homescreen. One notable line about halfway through the book actually breaks the fourth wall. Each chapter opens with a full address (Eddie’s, Whit’s, and a Starbucks are all real places apparently and I’m not sure how I feel about that), date, and time, but it wasn’t until the fourth chapter or so that Eddie seems to break the fourth wall to address the reader directly, which left me confused…was this actually supposed to be epistolary in style?
The relationship that develops between Whit and Eddie goes from “sees the other guy as a client” to “sees the other guy as his One True Love” in 48 hours. The instalove is real, but despite the blatant reminders of exactly how much time has passed (again, each chapter includes a time-stamp), I thought the nature of the conversations Whit and Eddie share helped me set aside my disbelief and enjoy their near-instantaneous romance. Plus, it takes a good two-thirds or so of the book to pass before we hit the “I am in love with you” elements. Also, it’s clear on-page that Eddie has some ethical quibbles about pursuing Whit. I think this is because, although we learn that Bob and Mario had orchestrated the initial meeting between Whit and Eddie, Bob and Mario actually did want Eddie to offer his services to Whit. The physical intimacy between the two men is sparingly described on page, but still very much present once they admit their feelings for one another.
Towards the end of the story, Whit finds the courage to come out of the closet and does so in a very dramatic fashion. This devolves into an ending that just rubbed me the wrong way. After Whit comes out to his parents, events unfold such that it is clear that Whit’s and Eddie’s lives are in danger. Who comes to the rescue but the billionaire power couple Bob and Mario. Because these two have been bankrolling all the traveling Eddie’s been doing for the sake of helping Whit get his life together, it wasn’t so surprising that they’d be the ones to pony up for getting Whit and Eddie safely away from Whit’s parents. But the eleventh-hour inclusion of parents who are guilty of major felonies, associated with people wanted by the FBI and others, etc. was a bridge too far. In fact, the way the Bob and Mario characters figure into the story was problematic for me. Although in the most basic sense, they were merely the catalyst that brought Whit and Eddie together, their constant involvement and the fantastic circumstances (Bob communes with a dead man; Bob and Mario bankroll private jets, chauffeur services, and even buy out said chauffeur just because Eddie said one of the driver’s was down on his luck) were distracting.
On the whole, there is a sweet instalove story between a grown man and an older man. The age differences were well shown on page and their individual circumstances as an ex-pro football player and a laid-back life coach made them a well-matched couple. I was disappointed by the amount of on-page space given to the overly involved wealthy friends, which includes flashbacks that did nothing to help me understand our MCs better. I also found the ending unfathomably over-the-top, adding willy nilly elements of high crimes and misdemeanors to an otherwise sweet get-together story.