Rating: 2 stars
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Sebastian was heartbroken when Matt left him two years ago. Both his mother, Vera, and his best friend, Andrew, think it’s high time for Sebastian to put himself back out there. As luck would have it, Sebastian meets a cute waiter named Aladdin while he and Andrew are commiserating about the sorry state of Florida politics over a meal at one the many Disney-run restaurants in the area. But it isn’t until Sebastian randomly runs into Aladdin again that he works up the courage to ask him out. Sparks fly and, in short order, Sebastian is thinking of long-term plans between them.
That is until he runs into Matt at the hospital where Sebastian’s mother is being treated for a stroke. Matt is in rough shape; the man he left Sebastian for is dying of brain cancer. Alone and vulnerable, Matt seeks attention from Sebastian. For Sebastian, rekindling a relationship with his ex represents comfort and familiarity. It’s a known quantity compared to Aladdin. What’s more, Aladdin not only seems to implicitly know Sebastian’s had a tryst with his ex, but the young waiter’s own personal life is blowing up in the aftermath of allegations of child pornography against his father. Sebastian may be spoiled for choice, but he’ll have to do some hard thinking about which man is right for him.
Room for Dessert is a contemporary novel by author Dann Hazel. It is set in central Florida and incorporates real-world themes, including the government undermining LGBTQ rights, fidelity to a romantic partner, and accusations of child pornography. What drew my interest in the book was the potential for a love triangle between Sebastian, Matt, and Aladdin. What I read, however, felt like a series of disconnected events in Sebastian’s life, which all seem like they exist on deserted islands. Each island was inhabited by one character and whatever single issue was affecting that character’s life: his mother and her stroke; his best friend and his imperiled university job; Matt and his bereavement; Aladdin and his two-fold shame (first, for having to stay in the closet, then, for not realizing his father was involved in child pornography). It was odd to read about such intense issues, but to feel like they literally could not have mattered less as soon as Sebastian sailed on to someone else’s island.
The story is also packed with minutia of the most mind bogglingly inconsequential nature. One restaurant after another was thrust into the prose and each one seemed to require critique of the menu and the quality of service, and copious dialogue with the waitstaff. All for a place Sebastian would never visit again and for people whom (with the exception of Aladdin) he would never interact with again. For all the gloriously pointless description we get of umpteen restaurants, there was a dearth of description regarding the details of Sebastian’s romantic life. It’s abundantly clear that Sebastian is having trouble deciding if he wants Matt back or if he wants to pursue Aladdin. But the story timeline and the way these characters interact (or don’t because, again, they’re like islands Sebastian visits rather than constant presences in his life) absolutely failed to build any sort of tension amongst the three of them. When Sebastian falls into bed with Matt, the only interaction I’ve known Sebastian to have with Aladdin at that point was 1) having Aladdin as his server at a restaurant, 2) bumping into Aladdin on the street where they agree to go on a date, 3) a sexed up weekend after their first date. I simply could not understand why Sebastian seemed to feel like he had some deep commitment to Aladdin when it felt like none was shown.
For a while, I was just content to try to get some farcical enjoyment from the mess of Sebastian’s life. However, part of that included his mother encouraging Sebastian to reconcile with his estranged older brother. This is another one of those character-islands and revolves around how Sebastian’s father is a deeply homophobic, racist bigot who got custody of Sebastian’s older brother as a child. Eventually, the brother realized who his father was and distanced himself. Years later, he now wants to reconcile with Sebastian. During their first phone call in a decade or more, the brother explains when exactly he started to truly realize the kind of man their father was. During this conversation, he relays to Sebastian an act of hate by their father (keying someone’s car for having a BLM sticker in the window). The brother explains this and quotes their father as using a racial slur (the n-word). Sebastian’s brother does not edit that slur or go out of his way to clarify “his words, not mine,” nor does Sebastian seem to think anything of his brother using this slur. To be clear, this racial slur is printed in full in the book, no edits, no asterisks, no nothing from the characters in this scene or from the author who wrote it. Frankly, I thought it was disgusting.
At best, I would describe this book as an exploration of a pedestrian character. Sebastian goes through life one restaurant at a time, seemingly concerned about whoever he’s with only as long as he’s physically in the same location as they are. Sebastian seems to have one big question in his life: take his ex back or move on with a new man. Yet the potential drama and catharsis of making a choice felt squandered by siloing everyone on their own little story island. I would have rated this slightly higher, but tossing out a full on racial slur with zero context or discussion is just a bridge too far for me. Overall, this book is a hard pass for me.