Jack Matheson isn’t used to depending on other people. But when an accident leaves him with a broken leg, he suddenly needs more help than he wants to acknowledge. Not so much for himself, but for his herd of adorable dogs and cats. They need walking and tending and Jack is hardly in a position to do it himself. So he hires a dog walker, the painfully shy Simon Burke.
Simon loves animals, but his grandmother is allergic, so he decides being a dog walker might be a good fit. But any human interaction causes crippling anxiety for Simon, even talking to someone as kind as Jack. Yet as time passes, Simon finds that Jack isn’t just kind. He genuinely cares for Simon in a way that no one else ever has. Jack didn’t set out to fall in love, but Simon is everything he wants in a partner. It’s just a matter of convincing Simon that Jack is in it for the long haul and that he won’t run, no matter what.
As I read Better Than People, I was often surrounded by my own menagerie of four dogs and two cats. So this book initially appealed to me because I know what it’s like to often prefer critters to people. But Jack and Simon are such a sweet couple they quickly become the beating heart of Better Than People and I found it impossible not to cheer for them.
Simon’s anxiety can only be described as profound. Even speaking is difficult for him and, as a result, this hampers his initial communications with Jack. But they’re a couple who communicate best through touch and all the unspoken things said between partners. There’s no magic cure for Simon’s anxiety and as readers we understand that this will be a major part of any relationship he has going forward. Jack accepts Simon in a way that few others have and their bond is nuanced and highly intimate as a result.
There are some mild pacing issues with the book. Nothing dramatic and nothing that affects the overall story, but just enough to be noticeable. Towards the middle of Better Than People, the previously strong narrative flow slows and becomes sluggish. I think part of this stems from the heavy emotional aspects the characters are dealing with, but there were several chapters that I feel could have been condensed.
Better Than People was one of the sweetest books I’ve read in a long time. It never dipped into the saccharine though, and I appreciated that Simon’s mental health concerns were presented in a believable and realistic way. Sometimes the happy endings we get aren’t the ones we expect and I think Better Than People did an excellent job of portraying this.