When Kyle Blackwood came home to discover Dustin, his boyfriend of fifteen years, in the throes of ecstasy with another man who was half Kyle’s age…Kyle immediately called it quits. Two years later and he’s been able to absolutely shut Dustin out of his life—no mean feat when Sapphire, Kyle’s absolute best friend, is about to get married to Dustin’s twin brother. It is a testament to the depth of affection Kyle has for Sapphire that he agrees to attend her destination wedding on a ten-day Caribbean cruise knowing that he will be forced not only to see Dustin, but to play nice, too.
In some very fundamental ways, being around Dustin is so very easy. For one thing, Dustin has clearly maintained his Adonis-like physique. For another, he and Kyle easily slip back into trading barbs like an old couple bickers. Yet after so much time apart, Kyle also views his relationship with Dustin more objectively and he cannot deny that Dustin tends to bring out the worst in Kyle. Still, it stings that Dustin has moved on and that his new boyfriend is barely old enough to drink. After making some monumentally poor choices during Sapphire’s actual wedding, including dropping an irate F-bomb during his speech and demolishing the wedding cake, Kyle is sorely tempted to jump ship before they even leave port.
Then Kyle meets Jax Abernathy. Jax is a fellow passenger on the cruise and, despite first meeting Kyle when the latter is bedecked in the buttercreme of his best friend’s destroyed cake, does not immediately write Kyle off as a loser. Kyle is immediately interested in Jax, if for no other reason then because Jax is the first truly neutral person to hear Kyle’s break-up tale. But, of course, there are many other reasons to be interested in Jax. He’s ruggedly handsome, has an exciting job as a free-lance photographer, and has a killer Australian accent. And, for some reason, Jax is very open to getting to know Kyle better, buttercreme and all. Falling for Jax could be the easiest thing for Kyle—but can true love really be had after only knowing someone (even an incredible someone) for ten days?
If anything about the blurb has caught your attention, I suggest you skip the rest of this review and just read The Good Ship Lollipop. You will not be disappointed. Benjamin has created a story that balances dual love interests, a confined setting, and high drama amongst a small, well-developed cast of characters. Honestly, I so very thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of this story. It opens up with Kyle getting cheated on, a scene which immediately includes character clues about Kyle and Dustin. We move swiftly to the present, as Sapphire works her magic to convince Kyle to attend her destination wedding, even knowing Dustin will be there since she is marrying Dustin’s brother. Both of these short, pre-cruise scenes work so well to sketch these characters’ personalities and their relationships to each other.
The outrageous way poor Sapphire’s wedding unfolded, with Kyle and Dustin constantly going for the jugular, was spectacular. For one thing, I thought it demonstrated how well these two characters truly know each other—and use that personal and intimate knowledge to push the hell out of each other’s buttons. For another, the way they (and especially Dustin) snipe at each other makes for such superb vicarious embarrassment for Kyle. He almost invariably gets the short end of the stick when he and Dustin go head to head; I couldn’t help but cringe with sympathy. I will admit, Kyle being manipulated into some terrible behavior does get laid on a bit thick, but Jax appears soon after these events and helps offer a break from the Kyle/Dustin antagonism.
I am a sucker for a love-triangle and I think Benjamin really delivered on that front. Even with the unflattering behavior we see from both Kyle and Dustin, the way they play off one another speaks of long history together. And I really enjoyed how the “known quantity” aspect of their relationship gets juxtaposed against the effervescence of a “vacation fling” with Jax. It was so easy to be all-in on Kyle/Jax fun, but also so hard to deny the Kyle/Dustin familiarity. That said, I think it’s safe to say that, come a certain point, it’s clear who you’re supposed to want Kyle to end up with. The one possible wrinkle in the “who will Kyle choose” suspense was Benjamin’s choice in narrators. I know the occasional switch away from Kyle as narrator gave me certain expectations about how the love-triangle would get resolved.
As far as the pacing goes, even for a hefty 400 pages, the chapters flew by—in large part thanks to the near constant tension created by two bona fide hunks vying for Kyle’s attention. There is so much careful attention paid to developing the dynamic between Kyle and his new love interest, while also revealing (to the reader) and revisiting (for the characters) the truncated relationship between Kyle and Dustin. I felt like every moment builds the characters, their relationships, or both—even the couple of days’ worth of sexcapades, because it illustrates a significant difference in how Jax and Dustin differ from one another in a less obvious way (i.e. being an attentive sexual partner). With the story taking place over a ten-day cruise, I was pleasantly surprised to find there was a big, tropey twist at the end. Not only does this shift focus away from “who will Kyle choose,” but it creates a neat little bridge to shift the characters/readers out of the sumptuous vacation setting to the real world. Even better, the twist affects all the major relationships Kyle has: with Dustin, Jax, and Sapphire.
Overall, I think this book delivers big on all fronts. Genuine characters who, if not always or necessarily likeably, are very relatable. While there is so much building up of Kyle’s relationship in the past with his ex, the strain it causes now, and the exciting fling with Jax, there is also some superb on-page exploration about the depth of Kyle and Sapphire’s friendship that directly addresses the idea of “can you break up with your best friend.” This is, hands down, an excellent read for anyone and especially fans of messy love-triangles and instalove (that actually feels something like something more than just physical attraction).