A guest review by Kassa
Del Mathers and Joey Dixon have settled in the West Village of New York City, trying to launch their careers at a local and well-respected drag club. Del is balancing his devotion to his lover and his desire to perform on stage; his drag queen alter-ego, Venus, a bold and sultry chanteuse, exists to mask his identity because he’s not out to his family. Joey, a gifted musician and lyricist, treasures Del as his inspiration, but he has his own frustrations and is hiding behind a series of conditions, throwing roadblocks into their uncertain path to complete and unconditional commitment.
As if dealing with a faltering relationship and Del’s overbearing parents isn’t enough, Del and Joey face danger when a group of homophobic vigilantes starts targeting the gay community. All it takes is a moment’s carelessness, and everything they have struggled to build could be destroyed.
This is an interesting book that I’m curious to hear about the reactions of others. The plot itself is somewhat tired and so predictable it’s painful in spots, however, the emotional connection between the young men and repeated reminders of their young age do counteract positively. The writing feels very amateur for the most part, without the slick polish and sophistication of other books but this also lends itself to the men themselves who also lack much sophistication. I have very mixed feelings as there were parts I enjoyed reading quite a bit and at others I wanted to burn the book and never finish. I connected with the characters enough to want to finish and ultimately I’m glad I read the book but I am left feeling conflicted.
The plot revolves around recent college grads Del Mathers and Joey Dixon who have moved to the heart of New York City to pursue their dream of being entertainers. Joey is a songwriter and lyricist that writes the songs Del performs on stage. Since Del’s overbearing, wealthy father is completely against any career in performing arts, Del performs as a drag queen. However, Del’s dream is to perform without the security of the makeup and veil. Joey and Del want to be open as a couple and live their dream in the big city. Unfortunately when targeted acts of violence start to hit close to home, their dream may be jeopardized.
The story itself is ok at best. As I said it is so predictable in many spots there are almost neon signs spelling out the future. The events from Del’s inability to stand up to his parents to performing in the drag queen club and even the acts of violence are all obvious and clearly spelled out so there is no surprise or twist. Each action is clearly telegraphed well ahead of time so the reader knows exactly how and why each thing happens from small details to big reveals. This is unbelievably frustrating and had the feeling of watching the girl fall down when chased by the serial killer through the woods. You know it’s going to happen, you already hate the girl for falling before she does, and you kind of hope the serial killer wins just because you’re that annoyed now. Combined with this were numerous errors in which people walked through locked doors, contradicted previously offered information, and the characters’ personalities turned on a dime without justification. These aspects are frustrating, irritating and ultimately not enjoyable elements of the story.
What is perhaps the saving grace of the story are the characters of Joey and Del and their connection. They are not perfect by any means and are very immature for the majority of the story. Joey attempts to manipulate Del repeatedly and shows very little insight of his own into Del’s personality and his choices. Joey repeatedly admonishes Del for not coming out to his parents about his sexuality yet Joey never takes the initiative to meet Del’s parents and find out why Del fears their rejection so strongly. Instead Joey relies on his own coming out experience as proof and reasoning for his pressuring Del to come out. Additionally later in the story Joey is easily manipulated by others to the point of lying and abandoning his lover. It takes the wise intervention of a therapist and older, sympathetic friends to help these two understand each other and their actions. For young men who have graduated college and are poised for careers in the spotlight, the lack of insight and emotional maturity is staggering.
However, with these flaws the characters at least show growth, development and change. They start as very immature, yet endearing young men as they work towards their goals in life. They struggle, make mistakes, and do very stupid things yet their love for each other is very obvious and engaging. Their ability to learn from mistakes is a key aspect to their personality and relationship that makes the two interesting and worthwhile. Their connection is very strong from the start and although tested, the implication is clear this particular couple actually may have a real happy ending. The scenes between Del and Joey are the strongest and evoke the most emotion throughout the story. This alone held my interest and kept bringing me back as I wanted to watch their emotional journey and development, making it worth wading through the unpleasant aspects of the story.
Two of those poorly drawn elements are the characters of Del’s parents. While I don’t want to harp on this too long, these characters are inconsistent and ineffective. They completely flip halfway through the narrative without enough justification or context. Instead the change is obvious, frustrating, and completely out of character for all involved. The easy offered solutions to almost every obstacle detract from the enjoyment of the story but again it’s the connection between the two young men that saves what could be an unmitigated disaster. This is likely to be reader specific and those that don’t find the couple engaging may hate this story. I certainly had my moments. Those who can overlook the problems and focus on the couple may truly enjoy their journey.
The writing is often clumsy and clunky, showing an immaturity in the word choice and phrasing combined with the storyline. This may be intentional due to the immaturity of the characters but felt more an aspect of the writing. This is a distraction mostly when the scenes focus on the elements that didn’t work very well. The lack of creativity and finesse to situations is unfortunate and definitely a detriment to the story, yet hopefully future offerings by this author will focus on the strengths of her writing. Like I said before, this is likely to have some varying reader reactions and the best I can say is if this sounds like a book you’d enjoy – go for it. I’m interested to hear what people have to say.