Kevin McMamara is taken off guard, not only by the fact that his mail carrier is an attractive, fit man (instead of the same woman he’s seen for the last ten years), but also his instant and intense reaction to him. Though Kevin adamantly tries to convince himself he’s simply reacting to curiosity about a stranger, he can’t help reconsidering his ex-wife Marianne’s supposition that he is bisexual. When he runs into Awais Siddiqui again at a bar, Kevin’s forced to confront the reality, rather than the possibility.
For Awais, moving back to his small hometown and finding it beautifully, openly queer-friendly is a welcome revelation, and while he hasn’t dated in the two months he’s been back, knowing he can pursue a relationship without worrying is a blessing. So Awais is delighted by the opportunity to chat up the sexy, flustered, silver fox he met the week prior and to see if the vibes he picked up from him before were only in his imagination. While happy to discover he wasn’t wrong about the vibes, Awais is also apprehensive about the fact that Kevin has identified as straight for more than 50 years and is only beginning to question his sexual identity. Awais hopes he isn’t just an experiment and that they can see where their instant chemistry takes them, but between Kevin’s internalized biphobia and an unexpected complication related to their age difference, getting Kevin to go on even a date with him may prove impossible.
Give Way is a sweet love-letter to small towns, found family, and the postal service…and dedicates a large percentage of its 100ish pages to these elements. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s a decided departure from expectations seeded by the blurb and a major factor in my rating. The story is so heavily invested in the romance between the town and its residents that the budding relationship between Awais and Kevin feels secondary, and only important in that Kevin finally met a man he was so strongly attracted to that he felt compelled to explore feeling he has always had, but repressed. Each man collectively spends more time with and talking to others—family members, coworkers, friends, neighbor, etc.—rather than with each other. After their initial mailbox meet-cute, they share a few drinks at a bar and then have sex. Afterwards, they share an awkward phone call where Kevin decides they should just be friends and don’t get together until most of the way through the story, at which time they quickly discuss what happened…and then go have sex. That’s the gist of the time dedicated to them as a couple. Individually, they are given plenty of familial and community interactions to get a basic sense of who they are and how they see the town. As a couple…not so much. There is an epilogue to show Awais and Kevin are still together three months later, and I’m actually glad it was only that far in the future as there is nothing in the story to suggest a realistic, long lasting ten years later type epilogue.
It’s not that I dislike stories that focus on dating or a person’s sexual awakening rather than deep, emotional relationships, or that I dislike stories where the community is a character in and of itself; I simply need balance and character consistency. With the brevity of the story, what a character thinks and says is crucially important, especially if it’s contradictory, because there is limited time to get a handle on a character and why or how they have a change of heart. For example, when Awais learns from his aunt why Kevin may have a problem with their ages, his thoughts mirror Kevin’s on how weird it is. There is no more thinking about/discussing the topic, so when he and Kevin meet at the end and this gets brought up, the fact that Awais doesn’t acknowledge the weirdness and responds more like this is a new idea and unimportant seems to come out of the blue. Similarly, having Kevin think he may be bisexual literally right before he sees Awais in the bar, deciding to take Awais back to his place for sex because “How else would he know what he really wanted?” and to then turn around and tell Awais that he knows who he is and what he wants when Awais senses his hesitancy is problematic. There’s a difference between ‘I’m just nervous but I want this’ to basically lying when asked if you’re still figuring things out. This implies not only surety, but that Kevin has been considering this for more than the maximum of a week the story says has passed. Yes, Kevin’s character is impulsive (so the reader is told) and this can work in a story with more/better trait development and reinforcement, but to have him go from confident to not and stay that way for most of the story, while dedicating word count to SO many other characters and pseudo-secondary plot points, contributes to the feeling that Kevin and Awais’s relationship with each other is not that important.
This impression is exacerbated by the fact that I learned more about Kevin and Marianne’s relationship and dynamics (even though they’ve been divorced for 15 years) than I did about Awais and Kevin’s potential dynamics (as they weren’t together enough to actually form any). Kevin spends more time reflecting upon/grappling with his past and present with Marianne, his tender/jealous spots, meditating on who they are to each other, etc. and so Awais just doesn’t seem important as a person or potential love interest. To me, he is simply a vector for carrying the proof of Marianne’s suspicions that Kevin is bi and helping Kevin discover a hidden part of himself.
That said Give Way is not a bad story or unenjoyable; it’s just better if you go in knowing its actual focus. From the blurb, I got the impression that Awais being in town is temporary and that the difficulties and/or emotional issues created by helping his sick grandmother could be contributing factors/complications to their relationship development. However, there’s no indication that Awais’s transfer is temporary; neither is his grandmother sick. There are mentions of him “helping her out,” but it actually seems like he’s doing that by moving in with his deaf aunt? Maybe his grandmother used to check in on her since she lives alone, but can’t do it as often anymore? It almost feels like certain elements got a rewrite, while the blurb didn’t, which contributed to my confusion about the tone and focus of the story (as I read an ARC, this may be the case). However, if you’re looking for a story featuring an almost utopian queer town and found family that crosses cultural, religious, and gender lines to show how much better life can be when we love and support one another, then Give Way may be for you.