A Guest Review by Sammy
Review Summary: An attempted romance that never found its spark and lost its footing along the way.
Blurb: All Shawn Neale is looking for when he stumbles into All Corked Up on Christmas Eve is some wine recommendations. What he finds is an instant attraction to Royce Wilkinson, the shop’s owner. After a few weeks of flirting during shopping and some semi-dates at Royce’s wine tastings, they decide on a real date. It goes well, but life isn’t that simple.
Shawn wants to buy Delicto, the local pub he manages. He’s been planning his life around this for years, but when the owner, who believes being gay is an illness, discovers Shawn went out with Royce, he gives Shawn an ultimatum: stop dating guys or he won’t get to buy Delicto. It’s a heartbreaking quandary: Can Royce and Shawn be happy with a secret relationship until Shawn buys Delicto or is Shawn going to have to choose between his dream job and his dream guy?
Review: Syrah by Nessa L. Warin marks the first time I’ve had the opportunity to read work by this author. The writing itself was solid and I could see telltale signs that this was someone who had the potential to develop into a writer of note. However, this particular offering had some problems that could not be overlooked and,unfortunately, weakened the novel overall.
The story, itself, was interesting, Here were two men, obviously attracted to each other, both with varying degrees of hesitancy about revealing their desires too early. Interestingly the older of the two, Shawn, was the more reluctant, often feeling as though Royce was way out of his league and much more together and successful than he ever would be. Royce, on the other hand, was the more assertive but only to a point. He guarded his emotions, keeping them under wraps in order to not get hurt.
Consequently, this shyness around each other made the men seem much younger than they were at the ages of 40 and 33, respectively. Shawn’s age, being the older and less secure, could have made for an interesting dynamic, if it had been played up. However, it was their mature ages that threw the first monkey wrench into this story for me. Frankly, the way the two men thought, particularly Shawn, made me think they were both much younger, just starting out in business rather than fairly established. In fact, the way the inner dialogue played out in this novel, I really thought I might have been reading more of a YA novel.
And that led to the second issue that gave me pause. I felt a decided lack of sophisticated writing when it came to exposing the inner turmoil of both men. While I understood the author was trying to get across the point that both her characters lacked a certain self-assuredness, she was also asking us to believe that both were managers of either their own business or in a position to buy the business from its owner. Royce had made a successful venture in his wine shop, All Corked Up, starting it from the ground up and running it for eight years. Shawn had been manager of Delicto for several years and was within a year’s reach of financially being able to buy the business outright. Yet, these two fumbled about each other for three fourths of this novel, failing to really understand the dynamics of a relationship, while both having been in long standing relationships before.
The way in which they interacted with one another juxtaposed with their obvious business acumen and former love affairs did not mesh. Consequently, there was little spark–romance between the two. I often felt that the slow growth of desire for each other was stilted and unemotional. I kept finding myself wondering when this almost 40-year old Shawn was going to stand up to his aged pub owner, Henry, and tell him he had no right to monitor Shawn’s sex life. Coupled with Henry’s nearly ludicrous assertion that Shawn was “diseased and sick” and that a girl could cure him, I really had a difficult time believing this story line. I kept thinking that this was blatant workplace discrimination and that no one would stand for it. So why did Shawn?
This dynamic then led to the need for Shawn and Royce to hide their affair. Going on dates outside their living area so as to remain undetected. A point was made early on about someone turning Shawn in to Henry–otherwise how would this aging feeble man know about Shawn dating Royce at all? But much like the idea that Shawn was an artist in his private life, this little plot point was left untapped, leading me to wonder why it was given any attention to begin with early on in the story. And then there was the idea that Shawn was some sort of artist and obviously good enough for a friend of his to bring a commission for a piece of his artwork his way should he want to paint it. Again, other than a minor reference here and there and a rather awkward scene where both men were nude and discussing Shawn’s art, this point was also fairly glossed over. Yet, it was brought up again and again, with no resolution. I still can’t tell you whether or not he ever finished painting that piece for the friend’s buddy.
Finally the way in which most problems that arose in the story line were resolved seemed way too easy. For instance, after chapters and chapters of Shawn angsting over whether or not he could even consider giving up his dream of owning the pub, Delicto, the situation turned on a dime. Suddenly his best friend was telling him to man up and fight for himself and Royce and just as suddenly he decided his almost life-long dream was no longer important. While I silently cheered his final resolve to stand up for his rights to date whomever he desired, I felt his capitulation was too sudden and made without a real thought about the future–something he had been previously so worried about. Following that decision was Royce’s reluctance to be happy over Shawn’s finally fighting for them and their relationship. Instead, Royce was worried that Shawn would want to go back into hiding and poor Shawn was momentarily bewildered over Royce’s lack of joy at the huge step Shawn was about to take. I know how he felt–by this time, I was more than bewildered myself.
The overriding issues with Syrah stemmed from its disjointed feel, its rather shallow characters and its tendency to gloss over the idea that these men had real life issues that should have had them scrambling for purchase rather than seemingly taking a walk in the park together. I felt this story never really got going. I kept waiting for that spark, the passion, the fighting spirit to emerge with both characters. Indeed I waited so long that when it finally did appear near the end of the novel, the story itself had not been compelling enough for me to feel any real satisfaction in the neat way the whole thing tied up.
Syrah by Nessa L. Warin, had real potential. Unfortunately, it was a good idea that never really came to fruit. I do believe that this author has good stories to tell. I want to read more by her and get a feel for her writing style overall.