Being a sex worker isn’t what Troy studied in university, but working in a fully licensed brothel named Priapus in Melbourne that caters to male clientele has its upsides. For starters, Troy has great working relationships and the building is equipped with both a live security guard and panic buttons in each room. It doesn’t hurt that Troy is able to cultivate a persona specifically for engaging with Priapus’ clientele; he goes by “Tommy” and is eager to please. With all the action he gets at work, Troy has sworn off dating…that is until a man named Nick books an appointment with him. Nick is blast from Troy’s past, being the guy who bullied Nick all throughout high school for being gay. But Nick is also the very man who fuels all of Troy’s best fantasies. When Troy learns Nick has searched him out to make amends for his behavior in high school, a bromance is born.
It doesn’t take long for Troy and Nick to grow comfortable with each other. Since Troy is both out and well versed in the pleasures of sex, he happily fields Nick’s many questions about all things sex related. While Troy manages to allay Nick’s fears about the sex industry, no amount of protection can quell the stigma Troy increasingly feels attached to his job and to himself. As the spark of lust Troy feels for Nick grows and grows, Troy feels increasingly stifled by his profession. And when he suddenly realizes being a sex worker is a barrier to true happiness with Nick, Troy has to decide if the financial freedom is worth the condemnation of a man with whom he’s falling in love.
Personally, I enjoyed the depiction of Priapus, the workers, and of Troy while actually at work. Parr doesn’t skimp on details like the rigmarole of clients choosing a sex worker to engage for services, or what happens immediately prior to said services being rendered (e.g. inspecting the client for STIs and showering). I also got a kick out of the fact that for Troy this seems to literally be just a job. While he’s in the midst of giving his clients exactly what they want, he’s mentally planning out meals for the week and thinking about other such mundane things. We see plenty of Troy interacting with his coworkers and learn what a sweetheart his manager is and the fact that one of his coworkers is basically in love with an oblivious Troy.
However, I wasn’t too taken with the characters. I thought Nick was rather unlikeable. Setting aside his past as a high school bully, Nick suffers from two major flaws. First, he seems to be entirely ignorant of how offensive his words often are. Second, if there is any possible way for him to misconstrue a situation in such a way that casts Troy as a “dirty whore,” that’s exactly how he interprets said situation. Nowhere is this more obvious than when Nick can no longer hide his attraction to Troy and makes a move. Nick’s piss-poor communication skills send Troy running for cover with his Tommy persona and ultimately lead to Troy feeling every bit like a dirty whore. I also had an intense dislike for the umbrage Nick holds for the sex industry. While he doesn’t go quite so far as giving Troy an ultimatum like “if you want a relationship with me, you have to quit working,” that seems to be a tacit given.
I was bitterly disappointed by the way Troy does a complete 180 in his relationship with the sex industry. What he seems to regard as “just a job” to pay the bills, he comes to loathe by the end of the book. Troy literally cannot perform his work duties as soon as he thinks Nick, a former highschool bully who has yet to find any tact, views Troy’s work history as a barrier to becoming romantically (or at least sexually) involved. Similarly, when a pair of Priapus coworkers fall in love, they plan to leave the establishment as soon as it’s fiscally possible. This reinforcement that people cannot both be sex workers and maintain romantic relationships was distasteful to me. The narration and dialogue felt pretty one-dimensional as well. Troy’s physical attraction to Nick is mentioned in just about every scene. Conversation between the two friends-cum-lovers is similarly rife with misunderstood cues.
There were a few highlights in the storytelling. The flashback to how Troy lost his virginity in a toilet stall in college was charming. I also enjoyed the way Troy addressed everyone’s fear of appearing less than perfect when in the presence of their crush with this exchange with Nick after a night of drunken clubbing:
Once I’m dressed in clean underwear, tracky daks and a loose old T-shirt, my damp hair neatly combed off my face, I feel much better.
Nick grins when he sees me. “Nice outfit, Troy,” he says, as he gets out some plates.
I pause in the middle of reaching for the paracetamol that I store in my fridge. “What’s wrong with my clothes?”
“You look fine. It’s just that you’re usually put together when I see you.”
“Well, I’m usually trying to impress you,” I say honestly. “But now that you’ve seen me hung-over, I’ve decided to dramatically lower my standards. I may even expel a fart or two.”
Yet even this exchange starts because Nick’s decided to comment, sarcastically or ironically, about the (presumably rather worn) state of Troy’s clothes.
If all you’re looking for is a happy ever after with two attractively described characters (and an effort at illustration by the author), you may enjoy this title. I, however, was underwhelmed by the characters and disappointed with the way it felt like the climactic actions of the characters, both main and supporting, seem to reinforce the idea that the sex industry is a grotesque place and everyone would be happier leaving it.