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
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.
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.