Story Rating: 3.75 stars
Audio Rating: 3.75 stars
Narrator: Michael T. Bradley
Length: 4 hours, 45 minutes
For some people, not trying is safer than trying and failing. For Oscar, he’s a master of half-assing everything. He has a job he’s good at and that he likes, but it’s in sanitation and people look down at him for doing good, honest, necessary work. So rather than spin it with “phrasing” or giving others a chance to make up their own minds, he rubs in the smell and the stench of the sewer, driving them away and goading them into disliking him on his terms. It’s kept Oscar from having to make new friends, and it’s kept him from having to deal with his past, his present, or even his future.
When he’s not busy setting himself on fire, Oscar gets his kicks online as a troll. Under various names on various forums — including Goodreads — he harasses, mocks, insults, and attacks behind the safety of a pseudonym. Even here he’s not willing to be himself; even here he’s hiding behind the same mask, the same anger, the same pettiness. Until he met Noah.
Noah, whose video he trolled. Noah, who he made fun of. Noah, who smiles at him, cooks for him, kisses him, and makes Oscar want all the things he gave up on. And when one of his sisters announces her engagement and asks Oscar to come home for a family dinner to meet her lucky man, Oscar has to face the people who know him beneath the mask. The people who know how to hurt him.
Noah is a good kid who escaped his religious organization, knowing, even as he did so, that he would likely never see his family again. For choosing to be out as gay, for choosing to stand up for himself and be himself, he had to leave them behind. Now, with his own apartment and his own life, Noah is discovering who he is and who he wants. When he meets Oscar, he doesn’t see the mean-spirited, angry man who lives in garbage and spews hate. Instead, he sees someone he wants to get to know, if you know what I mean, and he isn’t shy about it.
When Oscar realizes that Noah wants him, and that the wants Noah almost as much, he has a choice to make. Tell Noah, or not. And, a creature of habit, Oscar does what comes easiest and decides not to tell Noah that he’s the one who made fun of him. Instead, allowing himself to feel for the first time in a long time, Oscar realizes he wants more than a to get high and spend his life attention-seeking online. Instead, he wants to watch movies with Noah, have dinner, cuddle … all of it. He wants the chance to bring a boyfriend home to his parents and have them accept Noah just as easily and as proudly as they accepted his sister.
This isn’t a long story — less than five hours — and it goes by fast. I wasn’t drawn in by the first chapter where we are introduced to Oscar’s nastiness, but once his humanity is revealed, once we see the layers of hurt and confusion and self-doubt peeled back, it becomes a rather charming story. Noah, for all that he’s a bit soft and wide-eyed, isn’t a push over and I appreciated that he didn’t try to change Oscar as a person. Just some habits he’d fallen into.
The friendships between Oscar and his childhood friend, Jeremy, felt real. The way you get used to someone, and how it can be hard to see the slow spiral into addiction and abuse until someone else points it out, how much friends can take each other for granted, and how hurt and anger can lead to bad decisions. I’m not sure I agree with how everything plays out between the side characters, and at times it felt as if Jeremy was there mostly to stir the pot and then play god with a deus ex machina moment at the end, but it didn’t bother me all that much.
Michael T. Bradley is the narrator and he does a decent job. While Oscar’s voice came through loud and clear, Noah’s — while distinct and separate — just felt a bit too childish for my personal taste. The side characters didn’t stand out all that much on their own and, when Oscar was visiting his family at home, his sisters and mother blended together a bit. Even so, as the story is told through Oscar’s point of view, and as his voice is the strongest, it all came together.
Considering the opening chapter is the way it is, all but rubbing our noses in how badly Oscar smells, how much garbage is in his apartment, and how much of an ass he is online, I’m not sure I would have kept on with this if I had been reading it as a book. But with the narrator giving the oomph of personality to the story, I found it easier to push through into the rest of the book, and I’m glad I did. This may be a bit hit or miss for some people, since it’s more a story about Oscar falling in love than a love story, but I suggest giving it a try. I did, and I enjoyed it.