Title: Jake’s Alchemy
Author: G.G. Royale
Cover Artist: Anne Cain
Publisher: Dreamspinner Publishing
Buy Link: N/A
Genre: Contemporary / Short Fiction
Length: 7,200 words (33 pages)
Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5
A Guest Review by Damon
REVIEW SUMMARY: Take two idealistic young hotties, knock them together on a beach in Thailand, and sparks are gonna fly.
BLURB: Jake Sanders has a few days off from his Peace Corps responsibilities to celebrate the holiday, so he heads to the beach, where he meets a handsome surfer, Desi, who invites Jake to a barbecue. He’s ready to have some fun and celebrate, but Jake has no idea how much happiness he’ll find in Desi.
Young lovers take heart, vacation romance ahoy! Jake is a college-age idealist on leave from the Peace Corps, drifting through a life of patient agricultural activism. Desi is a charismatic Kiwi surfing pro with an entourage and a nose for the right thing. Royale wisely sidesteps the danger of blank, bland Aberzombies-in-lurv in favor of two distinctive charming youths perfect for each other both in timing and temperament. In a story this brief, an author must compress backstories to glimpses and G.G. Royale does this so deftly that after I’d finished I believed I knew much more about these two young men than I possibly could have. This is part of Dreamspinner’s “Day Dreams” line and it is exactly that: a short, sharp reverie that smolders throughout.
Short fiction is a hard sell for me. Packing in enough incident to feel satisfying without overbalancing the wordcount or derailing with digression is a tall order. Royale is more than up to the task, offering a saucy slice of a pivotal intersection in the paths of two hopeful young men. She wisely opts to portray the singular moment and only hints at the lives prior and the future ahead. She tempts the reader’s imagination with spare details that hint at the larger yearning in both their lives and make their union inevitable. Likewise, the plot offered here is a pretty clean arc from meeting to union. In a sense, what I enjoyed about this tale is that the author kept things simple and essential and only flavored it with splinters of the bigger picture.
And that said, the economy and precision were easily the most powerful components of this look at the burgeoning relationship between Jake and Desi. Over and over, Royale’s specificity created moments of stinging beauty: a drip of saltwater from blond dreads, the charged squeeze of a knee, swimming under gunpowder clouds in the night ocean, the taste of coconut sweat. With a slow sifting of details, the story builds a kind of romantic mosaic that felt exactly as tender and tenacious as young romance ought to be. There’s a swooniness to the telling, and the story feels like something you’d read stretched out in the sun sipping something with whiskey and citrus.
I should mention for any angst-addicts that the only large conflict is the parting that looms, inevitable in any vacation romance. A certain amount of elision dominates short fiction and Royale knows what she’s about here, picking the dominant threads and weaving the connection between Jake and Desi tighter with each shared moment. In 33 pages there just isn’t a lot of room for Royale to feint and dodge emotionally with these guys, so she (wisely) does not. This felt like a calculated choice, and it worked well for me though I imagine some people might want more grist for the grind. In a book four or five times as long, Royale could have elaborated the separation and made their reunion part of the plot, and the additional space would have afforded the kinds of actions that make characters emotionally heroic. But this little sexy bite is at core a teasing hint of a much richer picture.
Now, I did have one problem in this otherwise marvelous story: the sex. The spiraling physical intimacy leading up to the big event is charged and specific, but the actual intercourse stumbles more than once, and at times seemed neutered and generic. I wanted the erotic congress between Jake and Desi to be as idiosyncratic and unexpected as they are; instead the story seemed to march them through standard operating fornication with little intrusion by their personalities permitted. That was a disappointment, especially when Royale had done so much to amplify all the interactions leading to it. Even more distressingly, their climactic penetration was a bit of a muddle. Lubeless anal intercourse always drags me out of a story and here it made literally no sense whatsoever. Why-why-why? In a beach romance (which by definition offers all kinds of water soluble slickness like lotion and aloe vera and other jams and jellies in situ) it seems both an adamant and clumsy choice by Royale. For some reason, she simply denied lube to her two charmers and left some ho-hum in the homo boning. Nothing dire, but a slight bummer.
But other than that minor quibble, this is a seductive, little M/M appetizer. As with the best short fiction I found myself wishing it would simply go on. I could have easily read 300 pages about these two crunchy hotties navigating a love as sexy and untraditional as Desi’s dreds and Jake’s agri-career. Royale’s hints about the rest of their lives begged for a chance to unfold. Oh! I did have one question about the title: Why alchemy? Alchemy offers a beautiful complicated set of symbols and mythology which aren’t evident in this narrative at any point. Jake doesn’t transmute anything. Desi is described as golden at a few points, but that’s all. I finished the story and realized that the title, though appealing enough, didn’t seem to fit this particular story at all. Not a problem, but strange.
Bottom line: this is a sweet, sweaty story from stem to stern. The heat cooks off the page, both in terms of the tropical location and sizzle between the delightful protagonists. As I say, I wanted MORE of Jake and Desi, and that can only be a good thing. I enjoyed this story by G.G. Royale enormously and I know others will as well.