Rough Canvas

Title: Rough Canvas
Author: Joey W. Hill
Publisher: Story Witch Press
Buy link: Amazon.com (Second Edition)
Genre: Contemporary M/M, BDSM
Length: Novel, 400 pages (print); ebook
Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5

A guest review by Leslie

THE BLURB

When his father dies, Thomas is forced to abandon a burgeoning art career in New York. As difficult as it was to give up his lifelong dream, it’s nothing next to walking away from the man he loves. Marcus taught him to embrace who he is, a sexual submissive who responds to the touch of only one Master. But why would the sophisticated Marcus need some farm kid from the South?

Then Marcus shows up and offers him a way to continue his art career and help his family. There’s only one hitch–he asks Thomas to spend a week with him in the Berkshires. Thomas knows he should refuse. But he’s never been able to say no to his Master.

REVIEW

When Wave posted her first list of “Favourite Gay Books,” this title was not included, but many people mentioned it in the comments, saying how much they loved it. Intrigued, I read an excerpt which I enjoyed, so I went ahead and bought the book. Although it started off promisingly enough, in the end it was a disappointment to me. Since there are people here who I am sure will disagree with my evaluation of the book, I’ll try to be clear about what worked and what didn’t, so that potential readers can draw their own conclusions about whether or not this book should go into their TBR pile.

As a reader, if a book is marketed as realistic (ie, not a fantasy) then I want it to be–realistic. Sure, I am willing to suspend belief if needed to move a plot point forward, but when it happens over and over again, to the point where I am just shaking my head and saying, “Why?”, then that’s when the author loses me. This is what happened with Rough Canvas and why I can’t give it a ringing endorsement.

The basic premise is this: Marcus and Thomas are lovers, but there is an intensity to their relationship that moves them to a higher plane of emotional involvement than is commonly seen or experienced by all the rest of us normal people. There is a push/pull, ying/yang quality to their attraction. They reminded me of magnets: turn them one way and they are together, turn them the other and they resist. On top of that, Thomas is a sexual submissive and Marcus is his Master, a point that is made repeatedly.

Thomas is a gifted erotic artist and Marcus is the one who fires his muse. Similarly, Thomas fills some emotional need in Marcus. What exactly that is we don’t find out until late in the book because Marcus has…a deep dark secret. Unfortunately, by the time Marcus’ deep dark secret is revealed, I had mostly stopped caring and, on top of that, it was rather anti-climactic. But I digress.

The story opens in North Carolina where Thomas has returned to help his mom run the family farm and hardware store, after his father’s death and his brother’s subsequent farm accident that left him confined to a wheelchair. Marcus arrives in the store with a $25,000 check (he runs a gallery in NYC and sells Thomas’ paintings) and a plan that would let Thomas stay in NC, if that’s where he really wants to be, but still continue his art. There’s just one hitch: Thomas has to go to the Berkshire Mountains in western Massachusetts where Marcus has rented a cabin. Thomas needs to spend a week with Marcus and then he can decide: NC? NYC? With Marcus? Without?

We also learn in the opening pages of the book that Thomas’ mom doesn’t approve of him being gay, nor does she approve of his career as an erotic artist. She doesn’t like Marcus and his expensive lifestyle, the fact that he’s gay, nor the difference in their ages (12 years). It’s clear that mom is guilting Thomas into staying in NC and being a hardware store clerk while Marcus is trying just as hard to get him back to NYC, back to his art and back to Marcus’ bed, which is where Marcus believes Thomas belongs. Thomas is conflicted between his family obligations and his love and desire for Marcus, but at the same time, he is always pushing against some emotional barrier in Marcus that just won’t let them fully commit and devote themselves to each other the way they want to.

The essential story, as described above, is fine; it’s the telling of it–which at the about the one-third point of the book veered off into the melodramatic and over-wrought and never recovered–that put me off. That, plus all the unrealistic stuff. Let me give you a few examples: “the endless day” (a day in which Thomas and Marcus go off and do things that would normally take about 48 hours to accomplish, but they manage to squeeze it all into 12); “a convenient illness” (Thomas supposedly has a bleeding ulcer but it only flares up and causes problems when it serves to advance the plot; all the rest of the time he is fine and dandy); “wacky shopping” (while sitting in a coffee shop in a village on Cape Cod, Marcus announces he is going shopping and comes back 5 minutes later with a bagful of bondage gear, condoms, and clothing. Bondage gear is sold at the beach?); “blind beachgoers” (Marcus and Thomas have sex in the ocean in front of a beachful of people and no one seems to notice or care); “unbelievable sex” (Marcus has eight consecutive orgasms before Thomas even has one); and finally, “the Gary-Stu interlude” (in which we learn that Thomas can do just about anything, including birth goats). Throw in about a dozen “convenient characters” — characters who show up for one scene to make a significant speech or pronouncement and then never appear again — and the whole book just wore me out. While I am a fan of plot, this book had too much of it, which is why all these unrealistic moments and convenient characters had to be sprinkled throughout, as a way to make all the pieces hang together. Unfortunately, it just didn’t work for me.

There is lots of hot sex (even if some of it is unbelievable) and that might be enough for some readers to turn a blind eye to the other problems.  But for me, no, which is why I have to rate this at just 3.75 stars. Like I said, I am sure there are many who will disagree with me. And that’s okay. Bring it on and let me know what you think. I look forward to your comments.

13 comments

  • Thanks for the comments, everyone. As I said in the beginning of the review, I expected a diversity of opinion, and I was right. Great discussion — I enjoy reading everyone’s thoughts.
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    L

    Reply
  • Well this one failed for me too and I loved loved loved Natural Law
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    I think I pointed out my main issues with it in my review but honestly this is one of several Gay Romances I have read that pointed out a problem with introducing a heavy BDSM relationship and then trying to use the typical romantic misunderstanding melodrama
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    Marcus is portrayed in the story as this highly regarded Dom/Top in the BDSM community. Yet it does not look like Thomas ever really trusted the man. So how did they have a highly regarded anything? Then with both of them lacking even basic communication skills
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    So in this case the BDSM did not work and the escalating melodrama ended up making it even more silly. I finished it thinking good writer but bad ideas.

    Reply
  • Newbie here.

    But I just wanted to say that, for the most part, I totally agree with your review. I’m about 3/4 of the way through the book and I’ve pretty much just accepted that it’s gonna be unrealistic and a bit contrived. It’s annoying for sure, but I’ve actually developed somewhat of a soft spot for Thomas and I think that’s what’s kept me reading it.

    For me, I think one of the biggest problems with the story is its length. I’ve been writing since I was a kid and if there’s one thing my mentors have told me, it’s that less is more. And I think that’s something this story doesn’t seem to grasp. In fact, I feel like some parts have been so drawn out or over-written that at times I can’t help but think, ‘Okay, I got it. Let’s move on now.’ Like you said, it almost gets to the point where I stop caring.
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    Tara,
    Sorry if this sounds nitpicky, but honestly, I totally disagree. Sure, with most fiction books (of all types – m/m, m/f, etc.) you do have to have realize that things may not always be 100% realistic, but for the most part, Contemporary M/M romance – which I think this book falls under – stays pretty grounded in real life. In fact, that’s why I like it more than any other genre. It’s almost like reading the story of the guys down the street, or that guy in the coffee shop, or wherever. And hopefully that make sense (it’s really late here in CA so my brain isn’t fully functioning right now). Again, yeah, the reader shouldn’t always expect a complete, perfect picture of reality, but for the most part Contemporary writers do a good job of writing things that COULD happen to guys today (hence the term “contemporary,” I suppose. 🙂 ).

    Reply
  • While everyone has different opinions, i have to say i was disappointed in this review. I actually enjoyed this book. If you are reading romance and erotica( i hate to be the one to break this to you) but you are not going after a realistic story. I will admit many books out there put their characters through motions that some one in real life would not (example- how many characters kiss after pucking or want to have sex when they don’t feel good)but you have to expect a certain amount of exaggeration in romance. For me this book was strong enough and enjoyable, better than many out there.

    Reply
  • I read this book a while ago and did like it a lot. I like BDSM books and found the push and pull between the dom/sub interesting in this book. Cape Cod does have adult stores :-), so the shopping trip for plugs and I think nipple clamps, didn’t bother me. The whole “underground” bdsm club scene and gay bashing / Marcus history thing didn’t work for me at all. Sex on a gay beach, sure why not lol

    Reply
  • Thanks for this thoughtful review Leslie.
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    I’ve also read a number of very positive reviews for this book so I think I will read it and make up my own mind :).

    Reply
  • Hahahah I completely understand your review. I haven’t read this particular book, but I read a m/f erotic bdsm book by this author that was many many many uncountable levels of disturbing so i do know how you feel. Kinda curious, but since I know the sort of books this author writes, staying far far away!

    Reply
  • Is it bad that I REALLY wanted to smack Thomas upside the head … repeatedly? The whole “I must sacrifice myself for my family” thing makes me berserk, in real life or in fiction. It’s so insulting to everyone, as if you are some kind of superior being and these poor people couldn’t function without your beneficence. Give them some credit. I hate to say it but if you died tomorrow they would go on and survive quite nicely so get over your sense of importance. I think I was supposed to feel sorry for him and the fact that he couldn’t be with Marcus because of his family but I felt sorry for Marcus that he had chosen some total martyr to fall in love with. I didn’t hate it and the sex was hot much of the time but I had some issues needless to say.
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    Oh yeah and the birthing goats? LOL Seemed like a rather extreme set-up just to get him with an older couple who would prove not to be homophobic so he could see another side to things.

    Reply
    • I wanted to smack both of them at various points throughout the story. At times, Marcus seemed just as dense as Thomas and it drove me nuts.
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      Yes, the farm couple were two of those “convenient characters” I mentioned above. They dropped in to, as you say, show what acceptance can look like. They also made the “you two are perfect together, it’s obvious that you area crazy about each other” speech, another thing that was totally overdone, IMHO.
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      I also got very tired of reading about Marcus’ “silky black hair and glittering green eyes.” Sigh…
      *
      L

      Reply
  • Leslie
    I’m really disappointed. I bought this book a few weeks ago and was looking forward to reading it since everyone spoke so highly about it. I have read a number of books by Joey W. Hill (all het) and enjoyed them. One of my old favourites is Natural Law which she wrote 5 years ago.

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    Is this her first M/M romance?

    Reply
    • Hi Wave,
      As I worked on this review, I visited the author’s website and from what I can tell, this appears to be her first and only M/M romance. I wonder if that is part of the problem with this book (for me) — that she isn’t as experienced with writing M/M so that it didn’t come across as believable?
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      The author appears to have legions of fans and I am sure that many will disagree with me about this book. But, unfortunately, it just didn’t work for me.
      *
      L

      Reply

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