There is a certain amount of stress that comes with working in the porn industry. For example, Jordan worries about being able to climax as often and as copiously as his director requires. Then there are the come-ons by some of his co-stars—unwanted mostly because Jordan is in a committed relationship. The biggest stress is just being an adult film star. That, however, is Jordan’s own fault because he decided to hide what he does for a living when he met Spenser. The sooner Jordan can quit making adult films, the better.
Spenser is a devoutly religious man. He works as a principal at a Christian school and attends church every week. Between his faith and the expectations of nearly everyone around him, Spenser is still deeply in the closet. Even the romance he has with Jordan, whom Spenser believes is an executive at a financial firm downtown, is framed for the public as a “roommate” situation. But when the people in his work life catch wind of the change in his living arrangements, Spenser’s personal life and professional life get a little too close for comfort.
Even as Jordan finds the courage to quit, Spenser is tipped off about Jordan’s real job from an anonymous source. Immediately, Spenser calls it quits on their relationship. Leaving Jordan should have been easy, if not because his ex-boyfriend worked in porn then because he’d lied about working in porn. But the longer they are apart, the more Spenser starts to reevaluate his choices and begins to think that maybe there is room for forgiveness after all.
The Deal Breaker is a contemporary romance by Terry O’Reilly. It’s told in third person and flips between Jordan’s and Spenser’s points of view. The split feels fairly even and helps flesh out Jordan’s work as a porn star and Spenser’s deeply religious lifestyle. For example, two of Jordan’s coworkers not only randomly encounter Jordan and Spenser while the latter are on a date, the same two coworkers demonstrate friendly concern after they realize how hard Jordan is taking the break-up with Spenser. This sense of camaraderie is absent among the supporting cast on Spenser’s side. Instead, the main villain seems to be Spenser’s colleague, a man who feels Spenser is a threat professionally.
The story opens with a scene of Jordan at work and immediately sets up the “I lied to the man I love” trope. This framing didn’t work for me, mostly because I felt like I had missed all the fun of watching Jordan’s lie of omission about working in the sex industry snowball into Jordan lying about his education, his profession, and where he goes for X number of hours every day. Without that build up, I didn’t have a lot invested in the situation or in the established relationship between Jordan and Spenser. It is clear, however, that Jordan has been lying about his job consistently and for a long time. He has trouble remembering how big and elaborate his lie has gotten, he’s done it so long. Jordan even realizes that just quitting the porn industry wouldn’t necessarily solve the problem of having lied for so long and I appreciated this bit of awareness.
I’m not sure if it was the prose or the actual characters, but I felt like Jordan and his coworkers come across as part naive and part immature. Again, Jordan is hopeful that quitting the porn job will somehow let him move forward with his relationship with Spenser, no questions asked. His coworkers, when trying to do Jordan a favor by going to talk to Spenser, advocate for Spenser taking Jordan back by virtue of Jordan rejecting a threesome with those same coworkers—and that is their “clincher” argument for how deeply Jordan loves Spenser. These same coworkers also engage in a bit of “fun” at the expense of the person who outed Jordan by outting them. That seems cruel to me and I was baffled as to why Jordan and especially Spenser should go along with it, but they all happily arranged the opportunity.
Overall, I think this is a middling story. The main characters feel more like sketches of tropes—a porn star tired of porn and a closeted religious man. Their growth feels limited. Jordan’s big change is quitting porn. Spenser’s is to come out of the closet and pretend the past never happened. The flow of the story and its pace kept things moving, plodding along to at least a “happy for now” type ending. Readers who are looking for positive depictions of the sex industry may not find much to engage them with this portrayal. That said, readers who are struggling or have struggled with two seemingly conflicting core aspects of their identities may appreciate Spenser because he is a gay character who belongs to a faith that demonizes being gay, but still gets a happy ending for himself.