The chances of being in a landslide are rare. The chances of being on a train passing through a mountain tunnel as it comes down are vanishingly rare. Yet, that is exactly what happens to strangers Oliver Shaw and Jackson Moreno. They are the lone survivors and miraculously manage to find one another in the pitch dark. As the doting father to an adventurous young daughter, Ollie can soothe all kinds of hurt. His storytelling skills honed from endless hours of role playing games and personal writing projects also help them pass the time. Jackson grew up in the meanest of conditions, but that didn’t stop him from doing whatever it took to protect his two younger siblings…even if they ended up resenting him for it. His survival skills help keep him and Oliver alive against all odds. Their disparate lives help them cope with the extreme stress of being buried alive. And as hours turn into days, a beautifully strange rapport builds between Oliver and Jackson…one that runs deeper than either man has ever experienced.
When rescue teams finally break Oliver and Jackson free, their respective lives immediately pull them in opposite directions. Oliver must go back to a contentious marriage; Jackson gets arrested for breaking parole. In the weeks and months that follow, Oliver tries to take back control over his life and attempts to help clear Jackson’s name. Unfortunately, Oliver is only successful at divorcing his wife. But it’s a start. Years later, he’s managed to re-settle in the midwest at a bank job that can almost accommodate his agoraphobia. Though he’s never forgotten Jackson, Oliver’s never been lucky in finding a new partner despite several attempts. When a loner suddenly appears at the bank looking for work, Oliver feels a spark he never thought he’d experience again.
Show Me Wonders is the third book in Riley Nash’s Water, Air, Earth, and Fire series. Oliver and Jackson are only very briefly mentioned in book two (Make Me Fall), but Jonah and especially Gray make some major supporting-character appearances in this installment. I really liked how Nash incorporated Gray and Jonah without actually having them carry much (or any) water for the plot in this book. Gray and Jonah were really just friends of Oliver (and more specifically, their collective children were as thick as thieves). If you like series that have common elements between books but don’t retell the same story from a different perspective, then you’ll love how this book fits into the series. Another wonderful element of Show Me Wonders is Nash’s use of epistolary narrative. Immediately after Oliver and Jackson are rescued and Jackson goes back to prison, Oliver writes letters and those serve as the narrative. It was so impactful to be privy to Oliver’s personal, first-person thoughts and how his feelings shift the longer he goes without hearing a single thing from Jackson. Even better? The epistolary theme is repeated when Jackson and Oliver get separated again, but with Jackson as the author the second time.
There was so much I loved about this story. Show Me Wonders features an extreme opposites-attract theme between Oliver and Jackson. Oliver is a knitter, a girl-dad, a table-top RPG nerd. Jackson is a survivor of gang life, hardened by life on the fringe of society and from being incarcerated. Despite seeming to be poles apart, these two have a spectacular hurt/comfort vibe between them. Jackson is absolutely a caregiver, and that is exactly what Oliver needs when he struggles with his agoraphobia-induced panic. And conversely, Oliver is one of the only (if not THE only) person who sees Jackson as a whole person, not a convicted murderer. These two just have an innate ability to actually see the other, to make them feel comfortable in their own skins and accepted for who they really are. They find a partner who complements them in ways they’d never imagined were possible.
That sense of being perfectly compatible extends all the way to physical intimacy. While they were buried alive, they found physical comfort in one another, but given the extreme circumstances, neither one was sure what (if anything) it meant. Oliver and Jackson both admit they’re not gay. At the beginning of the book, we know Oliver is married to a woman and at various points in the book following his divorce from her, he attempts to find a woman to share his life with so his daughter has a mother figure. We learn that Jackson is very gray asexual and probably aromantic, too. Yet there is something about his connection with Oliver that makes his body react and that Jackson is very into this specific experience of physical attraction. In other words, these two both go through a permutation of “gay for you,” but it feels so organic and their expressions really highlight how different yet compatible they are as a couple.
The structure of the book was also very satisfying to me. There are three ‘acts’ to the story. The first act is the initial cave-in where Oliver and Jackson meet, connect, and (for all intents and purposes) fall in love, but lose contact with each other. Then, Oliver’s letters provide a bit of a bridge to (and an indication of how much time has passed until) the second act. This is set six years after the cave-in and is, I think, the real meat and potatoes of the story. It shows that Oliver’s managed to take his life back, but he’s still missing someone to share his life with and struggling to figure out what to do about it and how. He and Jackson reunite, though there’s a deliciously long bit of interaction where they have no idea who they are…until they do and then, their relationship develops much more quickly as they sink into domestic bliss. But it’s not problem free as Jackson has merely put his past gang-related woes on hold—and gets embroiled in new ones as a coping mechanism (safety from the old gang by joining a new one). That, and although Oliver is now in charge of his life, he’s not exactly able to cope with life when life needs him to cope with it. And the third and final act is very brief, but centers on how Jackson has finally managed to lay his past to rest and is working on becoming a man worthy of Oliver.
All in all, this story was just so fulfilling. The characters are deeply faceted and complex. Those aspects of Oliver and Jackson are clearly detailed at various points in the story, satisfying my curiosity to understand what drives them and why. I really loved Jackson’s asexual-aromantic identity and Nash does a wonderful job portraying this identity through Jackson’s actions and words. The cycle of the Jackson and Oliver coming together and breaking apart really worked well with these particular characters and how they process their emotions. I unreservedly recommend this story to everyone (and I think it can be read as a standalone if you haven’t read the first two books in the series).