** This review and some of the comments contain what could be considered as spoilers**
Review Summary: The writing more than anything won me over, even though I didn’t love the characters.
Jason Miller is still in the closet. He’s never found a reason to kick the door open, walk into the light of day, and tell the world he’s gay. At least that’s what he keeps telling himself — along with a multitude of other solid arguments. As an ad man, he’s used to hawking a bill of goods, he just never imagined he’d fall victim to his own hype.
When ex-activist/coming out guru, Chad Wellington came along, he was the one thing Jason never saw coming. Like a moth to a flame these two opposites ignite leaving Jason to decide if he can handle the heat.
This story changed my perception of Ethan Day as a writer. I always loved his books which are laugh out loud funny and they are all comfort reads for me, but Anything for You showed that he is capable of much more than a funny script, warm lovable characters, laugh out loud lines (although the lines were still there), and a great finish.
Jason blamed everyone but himself for his unhappy life, something that was his own fault since he stubbornly remained in the closet all his adult life. He felt that his family, his work associates, his friends, even random people on the street were all responsible for his unhappiness, and he refused to acknowledge that hiding his sexual orientation was the major reason for his screwed-up life. Could he be more delusional? His appearance of “complete and total butchness,” was a smokescreen since all his friends were gay, but he had to maintain the illusion to others that he was straight because he lived in fear of being exposed for who he was. He lied to everyone outside of his gay friends, either deliberately or by omission, about his sexual orientation and then wondered why they couldn’t accept him for who he was. Eventually the stress of always being ‘on,’ remembering his lines, maintaining his public persona and cues i.e. saying “she” rather than “he” when asked about his love life, etc., began to take its toll, as the lying became harder after 10 years of living in two worlds.
Jason was now so embittered that his unhappiness was affecting how he treated others. The people who felt most of the impact that his dysfunctional life was having on his personality were those closest to him – his lesbian sister Annie and his best friend Brent. Annie was in a relationship and Brent had found the man of his dreams, but instead of being happy for them Jason became even more bitter and it showed in his behaviour, even though he loved them. Living such a huge lie 24/7 had changed who he was and made him into a bitchy drama queen who wanted to get back at his friends and loved ones and make them just as miserable as he was. Then he met Chad.
Chad was the complete opposite to Jason. He lived his life out in the open and refused to stay in anyone’s closet. He was coordinator for a National coming out program in Washington D.C and had until recently been in love with a closeted politician, but his lover dumped him when rumours circulated about the affair and he was politely given the boot from his job as well. Talk about two body blows at the same time. Chad left Washington and returned to Missouri to lick his wounds and start over and when he saw a picture of Jason at Brent’s apartment he fell for him. Brent arranged for a blind date weekend at Chad’s request, at another couple’s country home, and when Jason met him it was all systems go. But of course there were many challenges to a relationship between them, especially Jason’s aversion to being ‘out’ in public as Chad’s lover. Meeting Chad’s parents who disapproved of his lifestyle and his gay lover was a huge milestone, and having dinner with the ‘rents was a not to be missed experience. That was when I felt perhaps Jason was redeemable, as he stood up for his man, and I really started liking him.
As I mentioned earlier in this review, I didn’t find Jason a likeable character by any stretch of the imagination, and it wasn’t until I was half way into the book that I began to warm up to him, as I started to understand his struggle to be true to who he was, a gay man. He hated the person he had become and this was what made him bitter towards life in general, and those close to him in particular. Being envious of Brent’s and Annie’s happiness led to him internalizing his feelings of jealousy and then lashing out, but he wasn’t a bad person, he was just stuck in a place where he couldn’t figure a way out without exposing himself, something he had spent a decade hiding from everyone but his gay friends and lovers. He realized what a bonehead he had become and that he was in danger of losing everyone if he didn’t change; that was something in his favour, and in his defense, he felt that everyone had deserted him when they moved on and he had no one. When Chad came into his life he knew what it would take to keep him, yet again he didn’t have the courage and insight to do what was painfully obvious to everyone else.
What about his new love Chad who seemed too good to be true? In a way he was. Chad, who at first was tolerant of Jason’s desire to remain in the closet, embarrassed him publicly, so he wasn’t as nice as he appeared to be – quite the opposite. I had wondered about Chad and how long he would stay with a man who refused to come out, and he proved that he could be just as manipulative and devious when it suited him. He also made it clear to Jason, without words, that if he didn’t change soon it was goodbye, so he knew when and how to apply the right kind of pressure to get what he wanted. He was another complex and well drawn character.
With two such protagonists it’s no wonder that I felt as if I was standing on a precipice waiting to see who would fall over the edge first. Luckily the characters evolved before they became unredeemable, despite all the personal baggage, but it was touch and go for a while. I thought that Jason’s growth was enormous considering where he started and how far he came. He learned what was really important, that loving someone trumped the pain of exposing your underbelly, your fears, and being vulnerable. This book is definitely not the usual romantic comedy that I’m accustomed to from Ethan Day because the characters were atypical. If it weren’t for his trademark humour which was delivered with a much sharper blade, I might have wondered if he had a ghost writer for some parts of the story and his protagonist Jason.
I think it took a lot of courage on Ethan Day’s part to write such complex flawed protagonists. I’m sure he realized that many of his fans might not appreciate Jason, because although the humour was there in spades it was not the usual self deprecating, warm and fuzzy kind. Instead the author directed his rapier like thrusts at his characters whom he normally treated with love, even if he gently poked fun of them. When I first read this story I felt as if he was having fun at the readers’ expense and that all of a sudden he would come out of his closet, 🙂 yell “boo,” and give us a different book with new characters. Then I realized how clever he was because he demonstrated considerable growth as a writer in terms of his skill to turn the story and the characters around on a dime. You may not like Anything For You when you first start reading it, but it’s well worth the angst to experience Jason’s journey from self loathing to self actualization, although you might want to kick the rat bastard many times and tell him to stop blaming everyone for the mess he had made of his life. As for Chad, I still don’t get the rationale of why he would want to be with someone like Jason since he knew going in that he was in the closet, the same reason why his previous affair had broken up. However, clearly I’m not a writer so what do I know? 🙂 I almost forgot – the sex was everything I expect from this author – hot, sensual, intense and kickass. Also, Annie was inspired although over the top like many of Ethan’s characters, but she, too, was not a fave!
This was one of the most difficult books for me to rate but I think I got it right …. maybe. I wavered back and forth before finally deciding (I might still change my mind) 🙂 but the writing won me over.
Whoever said that nothing good comes easy was right.