Story Rating: 3.5 stars
Audio Rating: 3.75 stars
Narrator: Steve Connor
Length: 5 hours, 47 minutes
As an Angel of Death, Tad walks through various times and realities, observing and being amazed by humanity and their resilience. With such a fondness for humans, shuttling souls away from their earthly existence is difficult for him, especially when it involves massive numbers. He doesn’t see his job as helpful in its own right and considers having to crossover mass casualties as failure. Tad thinks he’s only helping if he can reduce fatalities. With his ability to travel to any point in time over and over, Tad “[plays] with how many die, who dies and when” in an attempt to lower the death toll. He can’t always alter the timeline, especially major events crucial to human development known as convergence points, but he believes he’s learned the trick to success—finding the perfect balance between life and death and making simple “tweaks” that limit the amount of lives lost and don’t meaningfully change the timeline (that he’s aware of).
While Tad has only the best of intentions, his humanist take on being an Angel of Death is not quite the accepted modus operandi, and when he bends the rules too much to be ignored, he’s stripped of his wings and sent to live on the Earth he attempted to change with no resources, housing, or support. After a year of stewing in sorrow and street scum, Tad’s taken in by hairstylist and drag queen extraordinaire, Doug/Miss N. Shannon. Soon, Doug and his well-being become Tad’s raison d’être, and as Doug’s inner demons and depression feed his self-destructive nature, Tad goes to any lengths to give Doug the happiness Tad believes he deserves. Unfortunately, Tad’s singular focus on one soul’s happiness proves as disruptive as his focus on changing the fates of souls meant to die, and if he’s not careful, his quest for one life may come at the cost of all others.
T.A.D is an interesting exploration of philosophical concepts, such as the nature of free will, fatalism, and determinism; what it means to be human; whether any person is really a “nobody” if they interact with others and the world; and the consequences of pride, selfishness, choice, and sacrifice wrapped up in the friendship and emotional journey of a drama queen and de-winged angel. I like the concept of relegating an angel who is overly attached to humans to live as a human—resulting in him attaching to a specific human like a barnacle, and while T.A.D is a love story, it is not a romance. Tad’s evolution throughout the story is thought-provoking, as what does and does not change in Tad raises questions about what elements make up the core of Tad and how they can be strengths or weaknesses depending on Tad’s choices and motivations. The aspect of Tad’s journey that doesn’t quite land for me is the ending. It’s not necessarily that the course and reason for the events become obvious a bit too early, it’s more that I’m left with the impression that Tad doesn’t really take in the lessons from his punishment and that his arc is shortchanged to add more Doug time. Although, I guess it’s a fitting end since no matter how Tad and his life changes, his devotion to Doug’s well-being remains, and the effects of Tad’s tunnel-vision regarding Doug and the lessons Tad takes (or doesn’t) from them are what powers the story. Additionally, while there are enough bitchy antics and raucous fun to be engaging, the pacing drags towards the middle and kind of idles along. Even when the story takes one of its several turns, it doesn’t gain momentum and is ultimately capped off by the slow-moving ending.
For me, where T.A.D truly loses me is Doug’s depiction. Full disclosure: Doug and I got off to a rocky start. Doug’s entry into the narrative takes place in NYC on the first anniversary of 9/11, and in his sadness expresses a wish that Bush had “[blown] up the entire Middle East.” As someone who lived through the attacks, this is a sentiment I heard a lot, and I understand Doug’s feelings then and now. But apparently, even after almost 20 years, that outlook still automatically makes me think of the undeserved hostility and mistreatment Muslim family and friends (and those “Middle Eastern looking” ones) received (and still receive) and the fact that this “just kill ’em all” mindset is the same one terrorists/extremists have. Despite that emotionally jarring experience, I liked Doug and was looking forward to how he and an angel would affect one another. Moreover, I can enjoy messy, self-destructive, and salty characters, so Doug isn’t the real issue; it’s Neu’s unbalanced show versus tell when it comes to Doug’s complicated personality.
When it comes to story craft, I need the characters to exemplify traits other characters/the text assures me they have; otherwise, I find the dichotomy distracting, the characters less engaging, and the story disappointing to varying degrees. Unfortunately, much of T.A.D portrays Doug on the razor’s edge of destruction—how his passion, optimism, and bitchy funniness are being slowly consumed by the repressed trauma he tries to bury with addictive substances that also worsen his self-involvement. These scenes generally show him getting high and/or drunk to calm his nerves, while telling Tad in increasingly churlish ways to mind his beeswax. Yet, when it comes to Doug’s big-heart, generosity of spirit, kindness, et cetera, 95% of it is reported by Tad only, and the few scenes attempting to show these traits or Doug being a good/supportive friend usually have an edge of meanness and/or are dismissive (sometimes even mocking).
Also, I find Doug’s behavior when Tad moves in with him somewhat predatory and icky. Soon after Tad moves in with his generous benefactor, Doug initiates sex with the housing insecure, unemployed, and friendless Tad, and despite the narrative making it clear Tad takes no interest or pleasure in sex, Tad gamely continues to try for quite a while in order to make Doug happy. For me, throwing in a line where Tad assures the reader he wanted to do it and could have said no doesn’t carry much weight since Tad literally says he did it to please Doug. A person doesn’t have to be an innocent angel to feel gratitude that can easily translate into doing what your benefactor wants. While, I understand that Neu is conveying the ugliness and personality changes substance abuse causes, without enough substantial portrayals of Doug’s kinder traits, the progression of the story and Tad’s die-hard boner for Doug’s happiness becomes less AWWW! and more Huh? Who knows; maybe Neu intentionally spotlights Doug’s less than pleasant behaviors to convey that Tad sees Doug’s inner beauty and goodness and that we should take a page from his playbook and try harder to value our fellow humans.
The narration for T.A.D is also an interesting journey populated with a few rocky spots. Steve Connor is a new-to-me narrator who fit the story pretty well. His voice for Doug channels Doug’s dramatic, volatile, and sassy temperament, and makes it easy and fun to picture Doug giving attitude and fierceness in or out of drag. Connor is also great at conveying Doug’s biting cattiness and spite. For me, the one rough area of Connor’s portrayal of Doug comes in truly emotional moments. Because Doug is varying degrees of OTT all day, every day, Connor infuses his voice with a bit of showy flair in all situations. Thus, when Doug’s big reactions are warranted, Connor goes bigger—sliding alongside (and often crossing into) campy telenovela territory and making Doug seem more superficial and hammy to me.
Connor’s voice for Tad is also more or less on point, especially at the beginning where he effortlessly expresses Tad’s combination of artless joy and youthful pride. Connor also conveys changes in Tad with subtle nuances and inflections. Sometimes, though, his voices for Tad and Doug overlap, making it hard to differentiate the two during dialogue. His choices for Doug’s friends voices are…unique, with Doug’s best friend Minx’s voice seeming to be a fascinating mix of Nathan Lane at peak fabulousness and Harvey Fierstein at his drag queeny “Mrs. Doubtfire” best. As fun a voice as it is, it does highlight Connor’s difficulty with keeping his character voices consistent. I had to rewind Minx’s first scene because of the marked difference between one dialogue and the next, but it more or less settles into its final form a few chapters in. As for production, there are a few missed section/scene breaks so the change of perspective/passage of time blends into the previous scene, as well as some unnecessarily long pauses that can be distracting, but overall it’s solid.
I feel like T.A.D is a “your mileage may vary” type story. Other readers may not react the same way to Doug’s portrayal and function in the narrative, and like I said, maybe I missed a point that others won’t and they can enjoy the characters and ending more than me. The audio is similar in that Connor’s bouncy and OTT narration and unique voice choices may not suit some listeners, while pleasing others. So if you’re into messy friendships, supernatural interventions, time leaps, and some fingersnappin’, sassy narration, I cautiously recommend the T.A.D audiobook.