Dec 22, 2013

[Books] Different Strokes

I'm primarily on NetGalley because of the Angry Robot Books review program, but on the whole it's a great resource for review titles that one can read for free as long as you commit to posting reviews about the works. And for this blog, that's a bit of a no-brainer.

Every now and then I wander into the LGBT fiction to see what may be of interest. But admittedly I just skim synopses without paying too much attention to the full details of the book.

When I had downloaded Different Strokes some time back, I just figured it would be yet another LGBT romance novel (and one written by a woman too!) In this case it was actually just a novella given the book is only about 70 pages long, which is more like a hiccup for a reader like me. So I ended up reading the whole thing in one go right before heading to bed.

Reading gay male fiction written by women is rather interesting. I suppose it factors in a lot of things based on how women see things or what she may have learned from her gay friends. She's not too far from the mark in terms of how she writes her gay characters, although there are moments that her more feminine sensibilities certainly come forward more.

Synopsis: Different Strokes is a gay male romance novella written by author Nico Jaye. Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion of the work.

At the center of this book is Olympic swimmer Thomas, who is a very driven individual whose single-mindedness has certainly paid off given his success. One thing leads to another and his regular masseuse is replaced by Darren. Thomas had met Darren at a party thrown by the spa before and he had felt immediately attracted to him. But given he was in a relationship, he knew there was nothing of value to pursue. But now Darren is back in his life and will be provide massage services thrice a week. Thus the challenge for Thomas is to remain professional despite his lingering attraction for Darren.

The book primarily uses the first person perspective to tell the story. We start in Thomas' head and eventually go to Darren. This routine alternates throughout the story and it's a nice narrative device that certainly provides interesting insights into both characters. And in this case, the author wanted to show how both of them desired the other but had too many fears and uncertainties getting in the way of things.

But on the whole, the story is rather, well, perfect. As much as the protagonists supposedly have flaws in the form of their insecurities, in this case these traits sound more like positive values, especially when you consider the target market. Otherwise, both leads are ridiculously attractive and them hooking up is pretty much in line with the equation for your typical porno. But at least this had more story than that.

There was an attempt to give the budding romance time to grow over the course of the massage sessions, but it still felt rather superficial at best. I guess given the goal was to write a novella instead of a full novel, we resort to characters saying I feel this and I want that instead of us being allow to witness how their little back and forth dance would progress over time. It's the classic show vs tell problem that we more often see in Hollywood movies.

The story is pretty much just about the two characters, with the incidental inclusion of the faux-fag hag who is also the original masseuse. Despite that, there's not much to know about the characters except that they like one another. Sure we know Thomas is an Olympic swimmer, but then what? Darren is a masseur but is also a partner in the business. That's essentially all that we know about the two.

There's one sex scene towards the end and it wasn't too bad but also very, very safe. No need for a condom if there's no oral or anal activity - that's how safe it is. So it's really more of a fluffy romance piece, which isn't bad, but I think it could have used more meat in terms of overall substance. And for a book that focused on a romance with a masseur, it's ironic that we never actually get to experience one of their sessions. That's a situation that's just ripe for awkward moments and hands going in the wrong direction! I'm pretty sure more readers would have wanted to read about that rather than have a character just tell us after that he felt awkward.

Different Strokes is a quaint little title but given it's not even 70 pages long, paying $3.99 ($5.99 outside the US) seems a bit much for me for such a limited title. Thus I can only rate it as 2 wasted moments of actually describing the massage sessions out of a possible 5.

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