Rating: 2 stars
Buy Link:
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Length: Novel

 

Wyl Sterling, ranch owner, and retired Marine, is persuaded by his brother Walt to return to college at 40. There he meets Dr. Rod Sterling in his first class. Each man is immediately attracted to the other, but societal barriers and personal internal struggles prevent them from expressing their feelings for each other. An unexpected kiss derails their budding friendship, but Walt encourages Wyl to pursue Rod. They reconcile, and as their relationship deepens, they face threats from an anti-gay ex-Marine buddy of Wyl’s and a tragic accident that takes Walt. As if that wasn’t enough, Walt’s ex-wife Mitzi surfaces, threatening the ranch. Will their past challenges drive them apart permanently? Can Mitzi succeed in her plan to take the ranch? Will Dusty’s tirade push Wyl back into the closet?

Sometimes you open a book and know instantly it’s not the book for you. Something about the writing style, the character voices, just some vibe is off. And that’s the case with this book. The story opens, chapter one, with Rod feeling drawn to a handsome man, and in the fourth paragraph, having exchanged not a single word, he is in love. It was … well, it must have been magic, because their eyes met and the strange student “looked into his inner spirit” and Rod was lost.

Wyl is a fish out of water, having lived the past twenty years of his life in military service as a marine before returning to his hometown where he and his brother are oil barons, and who is just now starting college at the ripe age of 40. He can’t help but compare himself to the young adults around him and his first thought, when looking at the professor, is to wonder if he’s a possible friend, but no … he’s too handsome to be friends with. And besides, Wyl must be the only gay person in all of town.

This is repeated a lot. For those early chapters, both Wyl and Rod are absolutely certain that the attractive other man must be married and with children — because how could a handsome, older man not be married with children — while bemoaning the fact that they are the only gay person in the entire town. Rob’s thoughts, to his credit, do go over the difficulties of the teacher/student relationship, even with both men being in their forties. Even so, his insides do a lot of trembling and quivering when he thinks of Wyl.

The two men start to talk at one another — but rarely with one another. One of them will ask a question, the other will give a paragraph of commentary, and the first character will respond with something that often feels random or that they don’t have enough information to know. For example, when Wyl is introducing Rob to the horses on his ranch:

“This one is Sarge. He’s an independent horse with a mind of his own. His name comes from his take-charge attitude. He’s my primary horse. He responds well to my commands and my strong hand on the reins. Sarge proved a challenge to break, but once he accepted me, we developed a connection.”

“So you bought him as a colt?”

What, in that first paragraph, implies Sarge was a colt? And the constant referral of horses as steeds — “We spend around $10,000 for steeds for our [ranch] hands.” — felt awkward to read. In fact, much of the dialogue reads rather disjointed and off, to me. Every conversation has much the same feel, as though the characters need to explain their motivations, history, and characterization in a way that feels redundant, and sometimes as if they’re laying out story beats instead of having conversations. The characters just don’t feel as if they’re responding to the actual words being spoken or the events actually happening, as much as they are reciting the words of some other, private script, all which leads to a jumbled and disjointed reading experience. Neither of them spoke in what felt like a natural way, and rarely responded to what the other person was actually saying.

They also constantly contradict themselves, both in action and word. For example, in one breath Wyl mentions the squad he worked with, only to later say that when he was in service he would be sent where he was needed instead of being assigned to a squad. Wyl also mentions how no one knows he’s gay, except for Dusty and one squad of Marines, only to later say that Dusty outted him and he lost friends because of it. So, which is it? Squad or no squad; no one knew he was gay or multiple people did?

There is also so much unaddressed homophobia. There are so many, many homophobic comments that are never addressed in the book; no one ever called anyone out on it, no one ever said it was bad. It  was just often present when anyone else (other than Walt) was in the scene with the Rob or Wyl.

For all of the things I disliked and took issue with in this book, there are some moments that stood out in a positive light. First, Walt, Wyl’s brother, took his brother’s coming out in stride. Second, when Rob finds out members of the college staff are spreading rumors about him and Wyl kissing, he takes instant action, going to the higher ups to make them do something about it and threatening going to Human Resources and filing a sexual harassment claim. Oh, and the pacing was fine. However, those are the only colors in the muddled gray of this book, for me. Because then there’s the plot, which I hated.

Mitzi, Walt’s ex wife, wants her friend Stella to seduce Wyl, so Stella can fund Mitzi’s desire to travel and live a lavish lifestyle. Like buying her cars and a house. Personally, I think that’s utterly ridiculous. She’s banking everything on Wyl being such a doormat — Wyl, who she knows went off to be a marine, Wyl who she’s met before, Wyl whose brother hates her, Wyl who is devoted to his brother — that he will let his new wife fund his brother’s ex-wife on her European vacations and spending sprees. And assumes Wyl has access to Walt’s money and share of the ranch. It makes Mitzi sound … well, foolish and delusional.

The second part of the plot involves Walt, Wyl’s brother, who owns half of the ranch and was managing it while Wyl was gone. (Is he still managing it, then? It’s unclear because every time Wyl mentions it, it’s always with Walt doing the managing in the past tense.) Walt dies, and from a plot perspective, it feels like this happens so Wyl can feel free to finally be himself, and with all his new money, make Rob’s dreams come true of riding in limos, drinking champagne, repaying his debts, and going to the opera. And Wyl and Rob, after having met one another at the beginning of the school year, then get married — after the brother’s death and funeral, and Mitzi suing them for ownership of the ranch — in time for Christmas.

No part of this book worked for me. The characters were not well developed and had confusing conversations, unclear motivations, and a lackluster romance. I didn’t enjoy the plot, found the writing simplistic, and felt the villains were both ridiculous and there for no reason. However, as always, if you do decide to pick this up, I hope you have fun.

Note: Trigger warnings for rampant homophobia and fat shaming.