Alex left his boyfriend and his home to move across the country for work and dreams of success. But when things fell apart with his job, Alex was left far worse off than when he started. He knows now that leaving his boyfriend Tristan was a mistake, and while Alex has returned home and rekindled a friendship with Tristan, he is still lonely and struggling to get by. When Alex’s apartment is destroyed in a fire, he reaches out to Tristan, who is more than willing to help with an offer to let Alex stay in his spare room.
Ben and Tristan are happily married and deeply in love. They also know that they have room in their hearts for another, but their last attempt at a relationship with a third fell apart and left both men hurt. With Alex in need, Ben and Tristan are happy to offer him a place to stay while he gets back on his feet. But having Alex live with them is making it clear that Tristan’s feelings for him aren’t totally gone, and Alex seems to share those feelings. As they spend more time together, Ben realizes that he doesn’t just want Alex around for Tristan’s benefit, but because his own feelings are growing too. Ben and Tristan want Alex not just in their home, but in their lives and their hearts. But convincing Alex that he belongs with them and is worthy of being a part of their relationship isn’t going to be easy.
Spare Room is the first book in E.M. Denning’s new The Trouble with Triads series. It is sweet and romantic and has a nice, quiet tone that I really liked. Ben, in particularly, is such a solid, steady presence. He adores Tristan and is so supportive and kind and gentle in a way that both Tristan and Alex really need. I appreciated that Denning makes clear how strong the connection is between Ben and Tristan, that there is nothing missing between them, but that they can still both fall for Alex. There is a nice sense of Alex and Tristan rekindling what they lost, while Ben and Alex are developing something new.
The story is told in rotating POVs for all three men and I think the structure really works for the book. Denning keeps a consistent pattern in rotating through the POVs, so it made it easier to follow along, as I could anticipate which man would be next. The story is told really well, breaking the chapters at just the right place to move forward to the next POV. So I found this structure really enhanced the storytelling and gave the book some energy as it moved forward that helped balance the quieter story.
I think what I was missing here was a little more context and backstory. When we first meet the characters, we know that Alex and Tristan used to date and they broke up when Alex moved across the country. There is a point where it becomes clear that things were serious and both men are not fully over their relationship, but we really don’t get much background until pretty far into the book. So when things are getting intense and both men are expressing how strongly they feel about one another, I felt like I didn’t have enough understanding about what they had been through together. Even as we get some details, I still wanted a better sense of their past relationship, how the breakup affected them, and how they have been feeling about one another in the interim. Without that it felt like things sort of jumped from Alex being just Tristan’s ex to being a lost love of his life without getting that clearer scaffolding for what had happened between them years before.
I also felt like I was missing some understanding about Alex and his background. We know the basics — he left for a job and wanted a lot of financial success, things feel apart, and now he is struggling and regrets his decisions. But I really could have benefited from more backstory into his character and his experiences. Alex clearly has some major self worth issues. He struggles to believe he deserves Ben and Tristan, has trouble accepting that they really want him, and seems to find himself generally unworthy. For example, Alex loses his laptop in the fire and Tristan and Ben lend him an old one they don’t use. But even when Tristan makes clear they are happy to have him borrow it, Alex instead is sure it means they think he is incapable of providing for himself. This type of thing comes up a lot and is the root of the ultimate conflict, so I felt like I needed more understanding of Alex’s character and backstory to really get where he is coming from.
Overall, I found this one an enjoyable book with some sweet and appealing characters. I particularly liked the way Denning made use of the POVs to enhance the book and really move the storyline through all three men. There were areas where I could have used more development to really flesh things out, but I think this is a great choice for contemporary fans, particularly if you enjoy a lovers reunited theme and poly/menage stories.