Review Summary: After a slow start this book made up for any shortcomings and I really enjoyed Nathan’s and Isaac’s story
Nathan Kohn has been teaching Aquatic Science at St. Genevieve College for 15 years. It’s not a perfect situation, but he’s resigned to being a gay man in a straight culture, a Jew among Catholics and single in a world of couples. Until the stunningly attractive Isaac Wolf appears in his classroom.
Isaac is a few years older than his fellow students, brilliant, self-composed and Jewish. Wouldn’t Nathan’s mother be pleased? Except, of course, relationships between faculty and students are forbidden, especially those not sanctioned by the Church.
Isaac has his own secrets, which Nathan finds out when he visits the racy new club downtown where boys can be bought in the back room. Behind the beaded curtain, the man on his knees turns out to be Isaac. What happens in the club stays there, right? Except Nathan’s mind isn’t the only thing Isaac blows, and Nathan can’t stop thinking about that night. But what kind of future can there be for a college professor and a rent boy?
To summarize the blurb, this is the story of a middle-aged ecology professor at a prestigious college who falls for his hot 25 year old student. Pretty trite stuff, and after the first few pages I was prepared to put the book down, but something strange happened on the way to the DNF – I became engrossed in the story because of the characters.
Learning from Isaac started out with a lot of dry as dust and boring technical ecological information which seemed designed to make me yawn, even though I’m passionate about saving the planet. Told from Professor Nathan Kohn’s first person POV we learn that “the first rule of ecology is that small shifts beget big change” and “everything is connected.” Okay!!
Nathan’s backstory was a lover who cheated on him for years and he put up with it until Bill, his ex, dumped him and there hadn’t been any other man in his life since then. Fast forward to the first day of class this semester when he meets Isaac who is older than the other students and most assuredly hot. What’s a sex starved professor to do? Definitely not respond to his student’s thinly veiled invitation to pursue a sexual relationship.
Nathan was very attracted to Isaac but aside from the student/professor issue he was very sensitive about the 17 year age difference between them. He felt that there was no way they could have any chance of a lasting relationship, even if Isaac were interested, and he was not looking for a one night stand.
At New Year’s Nathan’s best friend Kenny was in town for a party at his mother’s and he persuaded Nathan to go with him to a new club. The piece de resistance was a ticket to the back room which Kenny had purchased for Nathan as a gift, but when they showed up both Nathan and the sex worker were surprised. Apparently Isaac gave bjs in the club to pay for his education. Nathan was shocked but not enough to refuse to redeem Kenny’s unsolicited gift. 🙂 After giving Isaac his cell number they left and Nathan could only wait and hope that Isaac would call.
One of the things I liked about the book was that Dev Bentham didn’t minimize Nathan’s fears and the realities of the age difference between him and Isaac, the fact that the teacher/student relationship complicated things, and also the stress and embarrassment of dating a man who almost every gay man in town knew from having enjoyed his “sucking dick for dollars” skills. When matters came to a head the weaknesses in their relationship were exposed and neither Isaac (who was hurt) nor Nathan (who felt angry) could figure out a way to get back together, even though they loved each other.
The characters were all well drawn, chief among them Nathan’s mother who was a wonderful woman, a successful defense attorney with a black boyfriend. She loved her son and wanted him to be happy and was Isaac’s friend and advocate when the romance took a detour. Kenny, Nathan’s best friend, was one of the best characters in the book and he was also very funny, with some great lines. Geoffrey Dunn, the Chair of the Department of Natural Sciences was a piece of work, always angling to change the curriculum to benefit his class that no one was interested in taking, preferring Nathan’s course which had a much higher rate of student placement. Of course Dunn tried to get rid of Nathan and Isaac provided the perfect opportunity.
Both Nathan and Isaac were three dimensional and I could feel the tension and love between them as their relationship developed and they tried to overcome some major weaknesses and problems.
I was really pleased that there was as much information about the Jewish faith in the book and it was obvious that the author was either Jewish or had done a lot of research.
My main negative about this book was the level of detail about Nathan’s discipline and maybe this was due to inexperience as I think this might be Ms Bentham’s second novella. For example there was a chapter devoted to a 5 day field trip and one entire day on zooplankton migration to gobble up phytoplankton (I kid you not), but there were a few funny exchanges between Isaac and Nathan during the trip which helped me get through this chapter. 🙂 Some of the tender moments between Nathan and Isaac such as this dialogue made up for the excessive technical information:
“It’s a beautiful body. I’m sorry you had to sell it.”
“I did what I had to do”
“You have been used like a commodity when you’re really a beautiful gift.”
“I’ve been pretending to myself that this was all you sold, but it wasn’t was it? I bet that got tough sometimes.”
“I’ve been worried that you would treat me like a john when I should have been thinking about how important it was for me to treat you like a lover.”
I hope you’ll enjoy Learning From Isaac as much as I did. I like this author’s writing which drew me into her story so that I could experience the love between her protagonists.