Rating: 4.5 stars
Buy Link: Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
It is either fate or karma that has Max glance up just in time to catch the eyes of the stranger across the bar. Tall, dark, and handsome, his gaze is appreciative, and maybe a little interested, but for Max — lonely and alone — it suddenly isn’t enough. Days, nights, weeks of living with his two best friends who are madly in love, and long hours of solitude and grief have worn him as thin as a shadow. Max wants not to be looked at, but to be seen. Touched. Turned back into flesh by someone’s hands … no, by his hands.
Max stands up, tosses away his pride, gathers his courage, and gives himself to the man at the bar. This is either the best or the worst decision of his life, but there’s going back from it. Severino — Seve — makes Max feel more alive than any drug, and Max soon finds himself addicted. They meet, they fuck, and Max leaves before Seve tells him to; it’s his choice to hunt Seve down, and it’s his choice to leave him when they’re done. Everything is Max’s choice … or so he tells himself. But even with every precaution taken, Max can’t help but want more than just sex, want to be more to Seve than a casual fuck.
The problem with feeling again is that there’s more than one feeling to be had. Lust, yes. Even love. But what about guilt? Shame? Anger and rage and despair. Max’s past is a dark place, and he’s not proud of what he’s done, of who he let himself become, of who he was before he dragged himself free of London and came crawling back to Brighton. No matter how much he wants to pretend he’s a new person, one worthy of friends and love, Max knows the truth.
And he isn’t the only one with secrets.
Compulsion is — even with all the sex — a very introspective book. Much of it is spent with Max as he slowly comes to terms with who he is, who he isn’t, and who he wants to be. When he was younger, Max dropped out of college to chase a boyfriend to London, cutting off all contact with his friend group — other than Louis and Jack, who are still his best friends — and vanishing from the face of the earth. Louis and Jack asked no questions when Max came to their doorstep one night asking for a place to stay, simply setting him up in a guest room and helping him get back on his feet.
His friends can both see, though, how Max is hiding away. He doesn’t laugh as much, or smile as much, and he hides away in their house when he isn’t off at work. Left on his own, Max might have fallen back into old habits, but Louis and Jack make every effort to let Max know he’s not a guest, not a renter, not some guy they let crash on their couch. Max is family to both of them, and they are there for him every step of the way. When Max begins to obsess over his new crush, neither friend judges him. They refuse to let him go, again, insinuating themselves into his slowly healing heart like cats. When Seve’s secrets and family history come to light, Louis and Jack still make no comments, giving no judgement of either Max or his choices. And when push comes to shove, both of them are right there, pushing alongside Max. (Honestly, Louis and Jack need their own book.)
Seve is an interesting character. His mother is from Madrid, Spain, and his uncle is the head of the infamous Medina Group, which has, so gossip says, ties to the mob. He’s tall, dark, and handsome with bodyguards, a luxurious flat, a sleek car, and a deep-seated insecurity. During the fraught and messy confession where Max finally tells Seve he’s in love with him, laying his heart bare, Seve answers back with how much he wants to fuck Max, and only Max, how he wants him all the time in every position and every place — but what he’s saying, between the lines, is how much he wants Max in his life, how much he needs him. It’s hinted several times, but with no in-depth explanation, that Seve is used to being used. His disbelief when Max tells him he’s not interested in Seve’s money, just his dick, the way it doesn’t matter to Max if it’s a 5-star hotel or an alley … Seve views his own worth as tied to money, power, and prestige, to what he can give Max. And it makes it hard for him to believe Max when Max says none of that matters.
There isn’t much talking between Max and Seve in the book; mostly it’s a lot of fucking, and then Max leaving and thinking and feeling through each encounter. But when they do talk, it’s with sincerity, humor, and intelligence:
“Max, I must tell you, I only have a little money. I’m in a cheap hotel. It’s not like the flat.”
I smiled to myself. What an arrogant prick he really was. My arrogant prick. “You reckon you fucked up badly, right?”
He made a growling sound. “I try to understand you, Max—”
I interrupted quickly. I was sure he’d hear the happiness in my voice. “If I cared about furnishings, Seve, I’d fuck a cushion, okay?”
The characterization is so strong that there are a good dozen quotes I could sprinkle through this review, but it’s easier to just tell you to read the book. The writing is good, the pacing is … a little unbalanced because so much of it is spent inside Max’s head, with the background plot moving fairly swiftly along. The characters are the highlight of this book, though, with the friendship between Max, Louis, and Jack being just as important as the growing need between Max and Seve. If you’re into character-driven books, angst, and a bit of dark humor, you should have a good time with this story.
Note: Though this is the first time I’ve read the story, a version of this book has been previously published (and reviewed on this blog). This edition, however, takes place in the UK, using UK slang and terminology, and has an epilogue that wasn’t present in the first book.