A Guest Review by Aunt Lynn
One Sentence Review: Lovely, lovely, lovely.
***This review contains what could be considered spoilers***
It’s August of 1970, and the friends of 21-year-old Oliver Duncan are having a blast at his bachelor party. Except Ned Surwicki. He isn’t an Ivy Leaguer. He doesn’t appreciate female strippers. And although he’s been Oliver’s best friend since they were 14, Ned isn’t much inclined to celebrate his pal’s impending marriage. Ned is gay, something he’s known since he kissed a boy and got the melty tingles. He’s also in love with the groom-to-be. Naturally, Ned is miserable.
On the night before his wedding, Oliver realizes that he’s miserable, too. Who should come to his rescue but best friend Ned, of course.
Thus begins a romance that spans forty years, requires one coming-out after another, and survives a broken engagement, a ménage with War and Pees, world travel, an ill-advised marriage, scores of fuck buddies, a father who thinks his son is destined to be a clone of Liberace, parents who reject their son, and, worst of all, the failure of two misguided men to pursue their fondest dream.
The most important coming-out for Ned and Oliver is summed up in a declaration they spend too many years trying futilely to forget: “I love you. That’s never going to change.”
This title is part of Loose ID’s “Celebrating ‘Coming Out Day’ 2010” collection
I am quickly becoming a big fan of KZ Snow, but when Wave asked me to read and review this book, the blurb gave me serious pause. It’s a personal thing, but I am not big on ménage à whatever, preferring my two heroes to have the bed to themselves throughout the tale. It throws the dynamic off for me, and frankly I don’t understand it — I don’t judge it, but it’s not for me. Additionally, I had read a quite long story on Nifty a few years ago that reminded me in some ways of this plot, and although I still think about that story from time to time, I admit that there were parts that bothered me, mostly centering on the fact that the protags brought two others into their lives, remaining a foursome for a large part of the story. Anyway, I was assured that it would be okay for me, so I placed my trust in those in the know and jumped right in. I’m really glad I did as it’s wonderful. And that ménage à quatre? We’ll talk about that later.
Electric Melty Tingles opens in 1970 with Ned, our twenty-year-old first-person narrator, attending the bachelor party of his best friend, Oliver. Ned is not having a good time; not only is he gay and all the other guys are trying to push the strippers on him, but he has loved Oliver for almost seven years. Watching Oliver “interact” with the loose women is driving him mad, but there is nothing he can do about it. Finding some other entertainment for the night, he leaves Oliver and the gang to their fun. The next day, however, Oliver gets major cold feet and asks Ned to bail him out in the form of getting out of town and heading to the West Coast for a short spell. On the way, Oliver shockingly confesses that he thinks he may be gay and that he loves Ned. Of course, Ned confesses right back his feelings and away they go. They head to Seattle and back on a honeymoon of sorts that neither of them could have ever imagined, but once back in Milwaukee, everything changes once again. Real life interferes and Ned and Oliver are separated for the next fifteen years, only to be reunited at last and for good.
I had doubts, when I saw the length of the book, that Snow would be able to successfully pull off telling a tale spanning forty years in a relatively short space (remember that other story I mentioned above? It was like a hundred chapters or something), but she certainly did. Much of this story — roughly three-quarters of it — takes place over a week or so in August of 1970, then covers the next twelve years a chapter, a day in 1985 in a chapter, and a day in 2010 in a chapter. Although the spacing sounds odd, it all worked for me and I didn’t feel cheated at all. Not only does it flow well, she is a gifted writer and here’s just an example of why:
A kind of conspiratorial excitement crackled between us. We’d thumbed our noses at the establishment, or Oliver had, and we were stealthily slipping beyond its reach. Outside, it was a glowing summer morning. Hazy sunlight had begun to drift down to the awakening streets. It clung to the creamy Ionic columns of Gimbels’ eastern facade, as if reluctant to touch the dank river at the building’s feet. The air was still fresh, although it held a promise of heat and humidity, and it buoyed smells that were rich and varied and distinctly of this city: the fecund odor of the lake, the thick pungency of bus exhaust, the dusty breath of old brick and the crusty breath of fresh bakery.
What did I love besides her lovely prose? I loved our two heroes, who at a young age loved beyond measure, but lacked the strength to fight for their love and were resigned to let others choose for them. I loved the dialog between them, especially the conversation on the train when they talk about Ned, his early sexuality and his melty tingles. I loved how Ned loved his father, and, even though old Floyd didn’t understand Ned being gay, he tried. I loved how he understood his parents’ discomfort around his orientation, about how they were of a different generation. I loved how they were with Anthony, their seventeen-year-old neighbor, who is on the brink of coming out himself.
As I anticipated considering the collection it’s in, the theme of coming out is strong throughout the story — Ned and Oliver coming out to each other, Ned to his parents, Oliver to his, Anthony’s contemplation to his. Each is its own experience and they differ greatly, as happens in real life as well.
The secondary cast is not large, but very well-developed and fleshed, and I perhaps adored Ned’s dad the most. He had me snickering several times, and I thought the scene at the dinner table with Ned and his family was great.
Oh, and about the ménage? The one where I wrung my hands and fretted over? It was fine. It totally fit in with the story, had relevance to the plot, made sense, and actually provided some comic relief (Warren — War — and Parnell — Pees — were a hoot!). Could the story have survived without it? Yup. Did it add to it? You bet.
Lovely, lovely, lovely. Fans of the author and those looking for a wonderful, romantic tale should not miss Electric Melty Tingles.