Title: Jumping the Fence
Author: Stephanie Vaughan
Publisher: Torquere Press
Genre: Contemporary GLBT (M/M)
Length: Novel (approx 200 pages)
Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5
A Guest Review by Aunt Lynn
Kevin Beltrán is not gay. Oh, he may be dreaming of giving and receiving handjobs and blowjobs with other men, but he is not gay. He may be attracted to Ben Durrance, the new IT manager at work, but he is not gay. He may be tired of the insanity and rules and conditions he has to put up with to get so-so sex from women, but he is not gay. He’s just…curious. Yeah, that’s it. And Ben may be the perfect way to get it out of his system, you know, like jack-off buddies, because he is so not gay. But Ben is and he has a feeling about Kevin, one that Kevin doesn’t want to hear. Can Kevin face the truth for the evidence, and can Ben protect his fragile heart from once again being shredded at the hands of another?
I want to note that apparently there was a rewrite, of sorts, that happened after the book was originally published. I found multiple references unhappy readers who expressed outrage at the rather abrupt original ending, and my understanding is that Vaughan returned to the keyboard, added content, and the updated story was republished. I believe I read this edited version as it does not end where others have indicated.
I liked this book very much, a story about coming out and being true — to the world, but more importantly to one’s self. Vaughan has created two likeable, believable characters in the protags. I felt the attraction, the emotional agony, the doubts, the fear on both sides. As the reader, watching the drama unfold was painful, but I had hope for both men. Also, I was fearful that this would be a “gay for you” story, as I despise those, and was pleased that it was not, including just enough past indicators to make it acceptable. An aside: there is a fascinating post by TeddyPig with his take on the phenomenon of the “straight to gay” story arc entitled The Politics of Dancing, and I couldn’t help but think of that as I read this story. The sex, although I’ve read steamier, is just fine, if a little gratuitous at times.
Poor Kevin. He lives in a world of emotionally painful, confusing self denial. He is terrified of what it would mean if these fantasies and desires he is experiencing were something more than curiosity. What would his family and friends think and say of Perfect Kevin if they knew? Would he be shunned, forced to break from everything he knows to be true to himself? Or is this just an excuse to remain in some self-deluded fantasy? Never having gone through the process as Kevin did (for me, it was like “I want to be with a woman now, so I am going to be with a woman,” and that was it, no drama), I may not be able to empathize with him, but I was certainly sympathetic to his agony.
Ben refuses to lie to himself. He is incredibly attracted to Kevin, and as tempted as he is to get sucked into this not-so-little self-denial thing Kevin’s got going, he will not return to the closet or be on the “down-low” for anyone, especially after what he had to do to be true to himself. He should find himself a nice, out gay boy and make a life, not continue to be a lab rat for sexual experimentation that, as he knows from experience, will ultimately break his heart. I felt bad for him when clueless Kevin was often very inconsiderate in how he treated sensitive Ben, and was heartened that Kevin was able to take his head out of his arse long enough to at least realize what he had been doing.
For the supporting cast, I thought Ben’s admin, Francie, was an interesting character and would have liked to have seen more of her. Of Kevin’s Latino family, we meet his parents and two of his siblings, some of whom are somewhat surprising. Ben’s brother, Scott, is a hoot.
A few issues:
Regarding Kevin, I felt that we were not given full view of his self-awareness process; it was as if we saw the beginning and end, and nothing in between. I would have liked to have been witness to the thoughts and emotions he experienced to get where he ended. Part of this is that I never got a real sense as to why Kevin doesn’t want to be gay. We are not given the information of, say, his religious upbringing and/or Latino culture as reasoning that he shouldn’t be different, that it’s a sin. We are not shown if his parents spewed homophobic verbal vomit and he couldn’t bear to be the target of that. A lack of grandchildren is mentioned, but in passing.
Additionally, I wish we were given some more information about Ben’s past as it is obvious that he has some scars, both from his family and from at least two prior relationships that were briefly mentioned. Through some conversation with Scott, Ben’s brother, we get bits and pieces and the general gist, but I would have liked a little more.
Lastly, and this is maybe really, really stupid, but it’s a small inconsistency that bothered me through the entire story. Vaughan brings the protags together via a computer problem Kevin is having, and I suffered confusion over whose computer it was and where the computer was located. Was it a replacement or fix for his work PC, and if so why were they repairing it at Kevin’s apartment with Kevin paying for the parts? Or were they buying/fixing a home computer for Kevin? I went back and read that part specifically three times and I still don’t have an answer. Like I said, small, stupid, but bothersome to me.
Overall, I thought it was a very good book, one that I will probably come back to and reread from time to time.