Story Rating: 4 stars
Audio Rating: 3 stars
Narrator: Vance Bastian
Length: 5 hours, 10 minutes
Alexander is enjoying one of his jaunts to Spain, sitting in a bar in Catalonia and despairing at his lack of prospective hook-ups for the evening—too clingy, too old, junkies, drama queens, narcissists, too simpleminded (he’s admittedly an intellectual snob)—when a perfect angel walks into the bar, instantly capturing everyone’s attention. When the young lamb is left by his friends and eventually encounters an overly-aggressive man who won’t take no for an answer, Alex pretends to be his boyfriend and stays with him until his friends return. During their time together, Alex learns that his perfect angel is named Christian and that he’s an 18-year-old adorable baby gay with a keen mind, sharp wit, and aspirations of becoming a doctor.
Alex is not only enchanted by Christian’s beauty, but by how good, pure, and wise he seems to be at such a young age—a far cry from who Alex was at that age and light years from the jaded, “seasoned connoisseur” of filth, and “bored pervert” he is at 30, writing smut under a pen name to keep his vulgar side occupied and to supplement his income from his respectable teaching career. Before they part, Christian asks for Alex’s information, beginning a friendship where, over the next three years, Alex adopts Christian as his protégé and sets himself up as his protector. However, the avuncular role he casts for himself begins to ring false when Christian transfers to Alex’s hometown for medical school. The more time Alex spends with Christian, the more inadequate he feels as a mentor, and more frighteningly, as a man. Soon Alex is thrust into a premature mid-life crisis and is forced to question whether his almost zealous need to protect Christian’s purity (of mind and body) has less to do with keeping Christian safely clean from the filth of the world and Alex’s dirty mind, and more to do with keeping Alex’s heart safe from loving an angel when he feels so dreadfully, unworthily human.
Dirty Mind is the first time I’ve had the pleasure of reading a book by Roe Horvat, and I really enjoyed his writing style. It flows and is sneakily lyrical in places I didn’t expect, making certain descriptions even more relatable, hilarious, or moving. Horvat’s style helped me enjoy a type of story and character that I may not have otherwise. For me, Horvat’s style and depiction of Alex’s personality make Alex’s journey and flaws relatable, even when he’s being beyond ridiculous and so very extra. As Dirty Mind is written from Alex’s POV, the crux of the story is Alex’s RAGING insecurity in regards to Christian, even before he becomes consciously aware that he has feelings for him. Once he does, although Alex professes to wants to be Christian’s friend no matter what, he can’t help but self-recriminate and be preoccupied by his own feelings and failures, which can be hard to take, particularly when Alex spends much of the book obsessing before he actually makes a mistake. However, I believe Horvat does a great job establishing early on that Alex is self-aware enough to recognize that he is a high-maintenance, moody man-child, who doesn’t know his own mind or what he wants. Moreover, Horvat uses enough levity and Alex’s own inherently fun-loving, raunchy nature to make Alex’s increasing fixation with comparisons to Christian’s looks, age (a 12-year gap he makes sound like 50), and intellect work in a way that balances humor and emotional depth well.
Although, Christian’s on page growth isn’t as blatant as Alex’s, it’s just as clear, and frankly, doesn’t need to be since Alex and Christian’s entire dynamic and relationship tumult comes from Alex’s refusal to understand that while, initially, Christian is an innocent in certain ways, between his controlling mother, his work ethic, and sharp mind, Christian is mature beyond his age and compared to Alex. He is VERY much the functioning adult in the relationship. Watching Alex flounder for basically the entire story, only to have Christian enter a scene to calmly direct Alex in one way or another or to see Christian’s quiet growth, which simply matches his confidence and maturity at the beginning to his gains in experience, is very enjoyable and at times hilarious, particularly in the face of Alex’s obliviousness and overblown, unnecessary self-doubt.
Regarding the narration, as someone who proofs audiobooks, loves them maybe a bit too much (I stopped counting after my library hit 1K), and sees them as a way to experience a book in a new way, my audiobook reviews may be a bit picky sometimes, and unfortunately, that happens to be the case for Dirty Mind. There are a few technical and less definable elements to Vance Bastian’s narration that made this simply an ok audiobook for me. The technical issues popped up quickly as I winced slightly at the pronunciation of Sitges and was fully pulled into “ouch, American reading a Europe-based book” mode when the painfully precise, uninflected Platja de l’Home Mort followed. I know for some this is a non-issue, especially since there aren’t many other non-Germanic, non-English words, and with English and German being more closely related, the need for inflection is less noticeable. However, I enjoy when the narrator is able to convey the feel or spirit of the place, but with those immediate hard American pronunciations, any feel for Catalonian beaches or being transported to Freiburg Germany was instantly taken away. Still, the book quickly establishes that the characters both speak German so that the “Americanness” of the narration can more easily be overlooked by listeners.
Additionally, I give props to Bastian for, in my opinion, nailing the overall tone of the book. It is emotional, but light and humorous and has to be conveyed mostly in Alex’s voice, and I think Bastian chooses Alex’s well, given the book’s feel and his personality. For although Alex is 33, he acts not much older than Christian, so the delivery of the narration and much of Alex’s silly, overwrought angst conveys (and pokes fun at) the man-child Alex so clearly is. On the other hand, there is a hard to describe, rhythmic, almost singsong cadence to Bastian’s delivery (I guess to achieve that lightness) that eventually translates into a type of emotional flatness that makes his overall execution come across as less engaged and less nuanced. I feel this may have robbed the story of some emotional depth or impact in places. For instance, there is a scene in which Mattias and Alex, who are friends with benefits, go from watching an emotionally affecting porn video to Mattias having an emotional breakdown that has hallmarks of anxiety, depression, and/or PTSD. Although there is some emotional variance to portray this is a serious moment, that current of flatness still remains, leaving me with the feeling of poor transitions and missed opportunity because while there doesn’t need to be high drama or an outpouring of emotion, there is (at least for me) a degree of depth between what Bastian does and what he is capable of doing that would have made all the difference in bringing to life what I believe that scene feels like on the page to what I experienced in listening.
This and smaller moments that come across like bad line readings accumulated and distracted me from the story, and eventually made it hard for me to ascertain if certain elements I disliked came from the story or were influenced by my negative feeling for the narration. It also illustrates for me that indescribable something that differentiates a narration from a performance. A narration is not necessarily bad, but a performance has a level of subtly and reality that, for me, brings the words to life in a different way. It’s the difference between having a narrator deliver normal dialogue then suddenly become breathless and say “wheeze, cough” and a performance, where the character sounds slightly breathless as they deliver their lines beforehand. Moreover, there are also other moments in which, I’m assuming, page breaks, weren’t incorporated as pauses into the story, making sudden time/setting jumps indistinguishable, another technical issue that interrupts the flow and proves distracting.
All in all, this is one of those times where I actually wish I had read the story first because I found the audio version distracting enough to detract from what I feel the story may have imparted. I usually wouldn’t rate an audiobook so low on the blog unless it had obvious production quality issues/mistakes or the narrator was, in my opinion, doing a serious disservice to the book. Unfortunately, I have to mark this audiobook lower for detracting from the story for me. I’ve heard Vance Bastian narrate before and like his work; this one just isn’t one of his best and may not do the book justice for first time listeners. However, for those who enjoyed the book, simply enjoy Vance Bastian’s voice, etc., then the audiobook for Dirty Mind may be for you.