Story Rating: 3.75 stars
Audio Rating: 4 stars
Narrator: Antony Ferguson
Length: 8 hours, 39 minutes
Monroe is a mess. Having never dealt with the sudden death of his parents or his complicated relationship with them, Monroe spends most of his days drinking and his nights clubbing (and drinking), while leaving the running of his company and legal woes to the family attorney. Numerous drunk-driving charges and a wreck only merit a shrug from him; yet, when his best friend, Erik Keston, gives Monroe an ultimatum, it snaps him out of his complacency. Usually, Erik can never stay mad at him and Monroe can coax him into doing whatever he wants, so having Erik truly upset makes Monroe panic and willing to do anything to please him—even go a day without drinking. It’s one day. How hard can it be?
Unfortunately, the reality of Monroe’s issues with alcohol are deeper than Erik expected and, to his dismay, his hasty ultimatum brings both men to the breaking point. Unless Erik learns to step back and let Monroe save himself and Monroe confronts the root of his drinking, both men will drown in the river of Monroe’s self-hatred and despair.
The Hate You Drink is one of those books that is hard for me to review. It’s enjoyable and well-written, with a compelling journey that shows a character in the ugly and most destructive phases of addiction and the early steps of recovery. It covers a heavy topic for a romance pretty well, and the blurb doesn’t pull a fast one on the reader—what you see is what you get. But for all the emotional moments and inherent angst, it just didn’t hit the mark for me in a couple of ways that probably speak more to my expectations rather than anything being necessarily wrong with the story.
Its thesis is laid out within the first 10 minutes or so, exemplified when Erik says:
He had his addiction, and he was mine. His addiction to alcohol was killing him, and watching him slowly spiral out of control, being so close to him but so far away, was killing me. Addiction, in all its forms, fucking sucked.
With those words, I expected to see both men on a journey of self-discovery. For Monroe, finally grieving and examining his complex feelings of guilt and hatred for being gay and not being the son his parents wanted. For Erik, figuring out who he is outside of being Monroe’s best mate and learning to not be his “doormat” and enabler. On more than one occasion, Erik admits that he has no idea who he is outside of his unrequited love for Monroe, but by the end of the story, I still didn’t know. When pushed to take time and reflect, find a hobby, etc., Erik does it for about a week, all while waiting anxiously and impatiently for a chance to talk to Monroe. He quickly decides that being with Monroe makes him happiest and if he can’t be with Monroe, he’ll just fill his time with work; he doesn’t need a hobby or to self-reflect. He’ll continue to be whatever Monroe wants/needs him to be.
Monroe gets a full arc—from intervention, through the tears and struggles of detox and therapy, to finally standing on his own, figuring out what he wants to do, and going from being a destructive force to a positive change in the world. On the other hand, Erik’s addiction/codependency is never really addressed. It’s simply “fixed” for him once Monroe is on the wagon because now Erik doesn’t have to say “no” or worry about being an enabler. He simply fills his support role with healthier options for Monroe because, again, it’s what Monroe wants.
Another way in which the narrative promises one thing but then soft-soaps in its execution is Monroe’s recovery and Erik’s role in it. In some ways, Hate is very realistic, but sometimes it just can’t help but insert romanticized fluff into the reality the story itself created. For example, the narrative knows that Erik and Monroe starting a relationship three weeks into Monroe’s recovery and only a few days after Monroe figures out Erik is in love with him and he’s in love with Erik (he thinks) isn’t a great idea. The psychiatrist says so. But pulls the “doctor in me says no but romantic in me says yes” card and allows/encourages physical intimacy between the two. Neither man has really worked on their codependency to each other and the fact that Monroe has his normal anxiety/panic at the thought of Erik leaving the day after they hook up shows it wasn’t the best/healthiest thing, but it’s a romance so we’ll gloss over that.
It isn’t just the fact that new relationships can be problematic for an addict in early recovery; it’s the fact that early on it is shown that Monroe literally can’t function without Erik. It also shows Monroe’s willingness to use Erik to avoid heavier emotions. It’s hard not to see him doing this a bit in recovery, but it also doesn’t get addressed and, worse, is retconned by both men to make it easier for them to transition into romance. During Erik’s naïve attempt to strong-arm Monroe into abstaining from drinking for a day, they end up getting each other off because Monroe is going stir crazy because of the cravings. So, when he notices Erik’s physical interest, he pounces on it and does everything he can to manipulate Erik into screwing him senseless to stop jonesing. However, during recovery make-out sessions, they forgive each other because Monroe was drunk. He wasn’t. He was sober. That’s why his actions were so hurtful and heinous.
It’s elements like these that make me feel like the story kind of doubles down on this angsty (bit not too angsty)/in-depth (but not too intense) vibe. All the tears and drama and realness focused on Monroe’s grief, but pulling back to keep the romance element light and happy. It’s counterintuitive to describe a story as emotional, but not emotional/real enough, but that was my feeling by the end. And it’s probably my own perception, but this seemed reflected in Antony Ferguson’s narration. It was solid and emotional enough in almost all the right moments, but there were some times it felt distant and didn’t quite hit the mark for me. Many times when I listen to an audiobook, I have a definitive feel for the benefits of listening over reading or vice versa, but on this one, I think enjoyment of the story is about equal in either format. If you’re looking for a proficient narration of a hurt/comfort, friends to lover story that explores the repercussions of unexamined grief and makes up for taking the reader on a hard journey of addiction with a super sweet, relatively angst free HEA for the MCS in the last few chapters, you may enjoy the audio version of The Hate You Drink.