Elliot Olsson is a 25-year-old autistic man who’s had a long-time crush on a former school mate, Mikael Ferreira. Elliot has just been hired as a houseboy at a beautiful estate in the San Francisco hills, Hawthorne Manor, which is owned by the invalid, dying Walter Hawthorne. Walter is a world-renowned pianist, but he’s suffering kidney disease, in addition to other maladies, including double partial amputation of his legs following a car wreck. Elliot is stunned to find Mikael is Walter’s live-in nurse within the manor.
Elliot has lots of coping mechanisms for his anxiety and autism, but getting overwhelmed still happens. Figuring out how to interact with Walter, the staff, and their peculiarities has Elliot on high alert all the time he’s at the home. He’s attracted to Mikael, but his inexperience with relationships causes Elliot anxiety; he dropped out of high school due to problems connecting with his peers, but he thinks he could connect with Mikael–especially with Walter’s prodding and support.
Mikael is a social man who’s not exactly sure how to approach Elliot, at first. He remembers the shy man from school, including some unpleasant taunting of Elliot that Mikael witnessed in his youth. He’s certainly attracted to Elliot, yet struggles to convey his interest, first because a workplace relationship could become awkward, and second, because Mikael can’t figure out if Elliot is interested in men. The more Elliot works at the manor, the more Mikael gets to know him and appreciate his eccentricities as a person. They connect, but it’s work–a parallel to the relationship advice Walter gives freely to both Mikael and Elliot. Walter desperately wants to take care of this fledgling couple, as well as his longtime staff.
As a black, gay man in the 60s, Walter’s ability to create his own family was limited to the people he kept around himself, including his now-deceased partner. Over the decades of his career and fame, he’s used his wealth and prestige to help many, including Elliot and Mikael now. It’s a difficult time for everyone at Hawthorne Manor, because Walter’s death is imminent and he’s so beloved. The lessons he imparts, however, facilitate happiness for his closest carers as they begin to cope with his loss.
This story was extremely straightforward. Do not expect too many surprises in the plot. It’s a relationship between two schoolmates who reconnect based on proximity. There’s a lot of time devoted to explaining how Elliot functions in the world, which slowed the pace for me. Really, there aren’t many conflict points that aren’t interpersonal misunderstandings, mostly due to Elliot’s autism. I liked Elliot’s new and growing interest in floral art, though it felt abrupt in its development. It might have been more organic had we had more time with him in his gardening helper role, as opposed to his lusting after Mikael role. Walter tells Elliot a lot of stories and that also slowed the pace, especially when Elliot later ruminated on those stories.
This was an okay book for me. I felt like it was long and predictable, with the main conflict points extending from Elliot’s medical and emotional issues. For me, that seemed to highlight his differences more than his successes and growth. There are a lot of details about gay culture and life in and around San Francisco, which added some context, but didn’t really move the plot along. I loved Walter, but he dominated this story, which is why this is romantic fiction instead of a romance. For folks who like stories with lots of personalities, and a little romance, you might like this one.