Story Rating: 5 stars
Audio Rating: 5 stars
Narrator: Joel Leslie
Length: 9 hours, 33 minutes
It’s the day before his wedding and all Ethan can think about is how happy he is. It’s been a long few years as he had to accustom himself to his new lifestyle as a late-deafened young man and being almost entirely reliant upon his hearing aids when he’s not even thirty. For the longest time, Ethan hasn’t been able to be happy. Going out with friends, going to clubs, or out to dinner has been more challenging and more tiring — both emotionally and physically — but Ethan is putting all that behind him. Tomorrow he marries the man he loves.
It should have been picture perfect. The dream wedding and the dreamy husband. Instead, it’s a nightmare. Ethan comes home to find Michael in the bedroom fucking Ethan’s best friend, Todd, and after a dramatic scene — and a less-than-apologetic Michael — Ethan leaves, turning his back on both of them and heading off on his honeymoon. Alone.
At 44, Clay hadn’t expected to have to start life over. He’d married young, had a pair of kids, and expected tomorrow to be much the same as yesterday. His wife, though, had other plans, and so Clay finds himself divorced, with a new job in a new city, drinking beer, and watching cricket, and trying not to be lonely. His daughter, who lives with him for the moment, keeps trying to get him to sign up for dating sites, but he just … isn’t interested.
Clay is the tour bus driver on Ethan’s trip, and when he sees Ethan, a young man miserably alone and struggling to understand conversations, Clay decides to reach out to him, to give him a friend to remember rather than a fiancé to regret. For Ethan, Clay is a safe person to crush on. He’s older, understanding, patient, and straight. Ethan can fantasize without having to put himself out there, again. For Clay, something in Ethan stirs up feelings he hadn’t ever had before or, if he had, had buried so deeply and thoroughly he hadn’t known they were there. Clay isn’t willing to let this chance pass him by. But Ethan’s here on holiday, and holidays have to end.
This book is both a coming out journey, and a story about second chances. It also has one of the most infuriating first chapters in any book I’ve read (or listened to.) When Ethan comes home to Michael and Todd, he’s hurt and angry and Michael manages to turn the scene around to be all about him and his feelings. Never have I loathed a character so quickly and so thoroughly. Not only does he brush off the two years of cheating he and Todd have been doing behind Ethan’s back, and admits that he agreed to marry Ethan out of pity, but he points out that — now that it’s all out in the open — Ethan should just embrace it. Because Michael has discovered he’s poly. Michael’s excuse and his arguments are vile. Poly relationships work (and they do and can work) when everyone involved is aware that they are involved. Which Ethan points out. But Michael continues to frame this as his need and all but demands that Ethan accept it. Watching Ethan stand up for himself and brush this off as the bullshit it is lets you know instantly that Ethan is a character who isn’t going to be walked over. There’s no forgiveness, no doubting of himself, no “what did I do wrong.” It’s a righteous fury and it instantly made me root for Ethan.
Clay’s introduction is a slower one, and we get to know him more by the small gestures. The way he speaks slowly and clearly so Ethan can pick out his words; the way he holds the bag with Ethan’s hearing aids so he can go swimming, or offers to drive miles away to get fresh batteries when Ethan’s run out. He’s the sort of man who drove with his wife to meet her boyfriend because he wanted to make sure she was going to be safe, and who — if he met Michael — would probably take a cricket bat to his ass.
The two of them slowly become friends, and when the relationship between them starts turning romantic, they take the time to talk about it. Ethan has been made insecure by Michael’s negging — which we see in the near constant apologies he makes for being hard of hearing, in the way he tries to make himself small and not take up room in a conversation, to go with the flow rather than to ask someone to repeat themselves — but Clay’s gentle and thorough compassion and respect bring Ethan out of his shell.
Clay has a bit of internalized homophobia, thanks to his father, and yet when he comes face-to-face with his attraction to Ethan, he doesn’t look away. He takes the time to think about it rather than just reacting. It’s not an instant fucking equals love, for him. It’s love equals love, and the sex is just a benefit. He had a relationship with his wife that involved indifferent, obligatory sex, but that’s not what he has with Ethan. It’s not just physical, it’s deeply emotional. It’s romantic, it’s sweet, and the two of them fit together so well. I enjoyed every moment of this story.
Joel Leslie, the narrator of the audio book, did an amazing job. Clay’s accent sounded flawless to me, and Ethan’s personality and way of speaking felt natural. His self-deprecating explanations slowly grew more confident and I felt as though Leslie really managed to carry across Ethan and Clay’s growing as people. By the end of the book, they both spoke more freely and easily than they did at the beginning, and the subtle bits of characterization and nuance speak volumes about how good a narrator Leslie is.
This review is part of our Reading Challenge Month for Older/Younger Hero Week! Leave a relevant comment below and you will be entered to win one of FIVE $20 JMS store gift cards from JMS Books! Commenters will also be entered to win one of our three amazing Grand Prize book bundles. You can get more information on our Challenge Month here (including all the contest rules) and more details on Older/Younger Hero Week here.