What do you do when your crush’s best friend turns out to be a jerk? A tall, beautiful, gorgeous, amazing jerk of a jerk? You hate him, obviously. Ian’s best friend has a roommate named Danny. Danny is sunshine and smiles, easy going and friendly, and Ian has a crush on him. Danny’s best friend, Victor, is a jerk. A tall, slender, elegant creature who happens to be both an amazing model and a talented actor and Ian hates him.
When they aren’t exchanging insults, Ian is determined to ignore Victor. Until, deviously, Ian agrees to take some new pictures of Victor for his modeling portfolio. Ian is a rather brilliant photographer who works for a local fashion magazine, and he has the idea to put Victor through his paces. He’ll make him trot like a show pony, put him in impossible poses, confuse him with directions until he blows up and walks out. The only problem is that Victor is honestly an amazing model and the camera loves him. There isn’t a bad shot of him (because Ian doesn’t take bad shots). And Victor gives 100% to every ask. Every wrist, foot, and chin tilt and every pose is exactly what Ian asks for.
Ian hates him. Of course he hates him. Even as he makes Victor dinner. Or gently and delicately asks him if he has difficulties with food when he suspects Victor has an eating disorder. In all the small ways, Victor is worming his way deeper into Ian’s heart, and he hates it. Because no matter how good Victor is — and he is — he never seems to give himself credit. He’s always looking down on himself, doubting himself, looking to other people to tell him if he’s any good. And Ian hates it, because Victor is beautiful. And smart. Hardworking and dedicated and the only one who can’t see that is Victor.
And Ian hates him for it. Right?
Ian is not an introspective character. He doesn’t analyze his thoughts and feelings, and he doesn’t think about why he’s doing what he’s doing. He is who he is, he’s good at what he’s good at, and he likes who he likes. Ian sees the world in black and white, dividing his world into people he likes and feels safe with, and … everyone else. Suffering from social anxiety, he doesn’t feel comfortable in large groups of people, or even meeting new people. And for all that he has a crush on Danny, or so he says, it feels more like he’s crushing on how safe and welcome Danny makes him feel. While Ian’s happy in his company, it’s not Danny who fills his thoughts in the minutes and hours and days when they’re apart.
Victor likes being someone else, transforming himself into the roles he’s given or the clothes he’s wearing. There he can let go of all his self doubt and insecurity and just be. While his history isn’t examined in any detail, some of it can be guessed at. Victor likens himself to mud, able to be molded into any shape, able to be broken and crumbled apart and still — with a little water — come back together. You can’t hurt mud. You can’t scar it, you can’t blame it for being anything other than what it is: mud. And Victor sees Ian, with his confidence and anger covering his own pains and hurts, as a creature of fire, burning anything that gets too close and yet drawing in fools, like himself.
Ian is also obnoxious and aggressive. When he argues with Victor, he fully expects Victor to be able to argue back … and it’s refreshing. He can unleash his anger, his exhaustion, his humor and his pain on Ian who will circle it around into something new. The two of them are constantly at each other’s throats with short and tall comments, smart and stupid, anything and everything to get that rise out of the other person. Victor can relax around Ian, of all things, and Ian can order Victor around to his heart’s content.
In a rather poignant scene, where Victor asks Ian to shape him, to give him form, to dictate who and what he should be … Ian refuses. Because while he is an artist, he’s an artist who can see the beauty in what’s in front of him and capture it in a perfect, frozen moment. But Victor doesn’t need to be frozen. Doesn’t need to be perfect. Doesn’t need to be anything more than the person he wants himself to be.
This story has great moments of character and some really good banter:
“You think my laugh sounds stupid and like an obese seal?”
“Well,” Victor started, looking unbothered, “your laugh sounds like the Loch Ness Monster. People claim to have seen it, but there’s no proof for its existence.”
The pacing is good, the writing is good, and the themes of friendship and self-value are strong. The friendship that develops between the two leads and their honest chemistry make this an enjoyable reading experience, and it’s one I do recommend.
Note: There are scenes of disordered eating by Victor — to lose weight and because he’s busy doing a thousand things at once — that might be triggering to some people.