A high school jock and nerd fall in love senior year, only to part after an amazing summer of discovery to attend their respective colleges. They keep in touch at first, but then slowly drift apart. Flash forward twenty years.
Travis and Craig both have great lives, careers, and loves. But something is missing …. Travis is the first to figure it out. He’s still in love with Craig, and come what may, he’s going after the boy who captured his heart, even if it means forsaking his job, making a fool of himself, and entering the great unknown. Told in narrative, letters, checklists, and more, this is the must-read novel for anyone who’s wondered what ever happened to that first great love.
Almost Like Being In Love is as addictive as chocolate, it’s that good and it’s one of those books which I hated when it ended because I loved, loved this story so much. The book is epic without being 600 pages long, and it’s about a man’s journey to find his soul, his lost love from 20 years before, how he abandoned everything else in his life in his quest, and the people in his life and those he met along the way.
The story is told epistolary style and if you’re put off at the thought of reading an entire story made up of newspaper articles, letters, emails, diaries, posts, etc., don’t be. Steve Kluger is master at his craft and you will be sucked into this story from the first chapter. His ability as a writer is unparalleled and if you think my statement is over the top when I say this, read the book and then tell me I’m full of it.
This love affair did not have a dull moment. Craig McKenna and Travis Puckett – one is a jock and the other a nerd – met at 15 in 1978 when they were both in high school, and Travis literally fell off a ladder into Craig’s arms. We experience their youthful crushes for movie and baseball heroes and follow them as they skip school to see these idols and lunch on Ring Dings and Pepsi. The story recounts some of these episodes and if you wonder how they were able, as fans, to have the access they did, this was before the days of the paparazzi and threats against celebrities.
Eventually they fall in love and we experience their courtship if you can call it that, because it always seemed to be interrupted by Craig’s activism and involvement in civil rights issues and marches, and he even ended up in jail a time or two. This was, after all, the ’80s where “gay rights” were not exactly household words. Kluger never hits the reader over the head with his politics or the issues of the day, although there is a little bit about gay bashing in the book, and while a lot of the issues of the 80s were alluded to, they don’t take over the book.
When Travis and Craig have their first kiss after doing everything else like showering naked together, and express their love for each other, there was a sense of wonder that each had found such a perfect person who loved them despite their faults! After spending a short time together, savouring their romance, it was time to part because they were going to college, in different states. Here’s a typical conversation between Travis and Craig –
Would you still love me if you found out that I once stole a box of York Peppermint Patties?
Would you still love me if you found out that I once snuck into Gypsy without a ticket?
Would you still love me if you found out that I once f**ked a bagel?
Would you still love me if you found out I once f**ked one too?
Would you still love me if I kidnapped you and took you to Harvard with me in September?
Would you still love me if I knocked you unconscious and wouldn’t let you go back to St. Louis this summer?
Would you love me even more if I told you I’d figured out a way for us to be together for the next three months?
Does that mean alone together?
I’ll do it
You haven’t even heard the battle plan yet.
It doesn’t matter
(Grin) Hand me some paper
Even though they both promised to keep in touch, life happened, the letters stopped and they drifted apart, but they never forgot each other. Twenty years later Travis realized that despite his successes, his life was empty and he knew why. Craig was no longer in it so he decided to find him and what a journey it was.
What made this novel memorable for me were the characters – both protagonists as well as the supporting characters. I have to give Steve Kluger full marks for creating all the wonderful characters that made this such an outstanding read — Gordo, Travis’s best friend, Clayton, Craig’s partner for 12 years, who was so great that I had mixed feelings about whether I wanted Travis to take Craig away from him; I loved Clay despite the fact that he was Travis’s rival, and I became invested in him. Charleen, Craig’s business partner, Jody, her lover, and A.J, all of whom played such key roles in the book that it’s hard to think of them as supporting characters. One of the most memorable characters is Noah, Jody’s son who Craig fell in love with and you will too and I think he stole a major slice of the best lines. Closing the book and leaving Travis and Craig behind was really difficult for me because I knew then that the story was truly over. The way I feel when I get to the last page of a book is what determines in my mind how exceptional it was, and in this case I was almost crying when the book ended because I felt so emotional that the journey was over.
The characterisations were brilliant – Travis is obsessive compulsive and crazy in a good way about baseball and movies and American history. He never found the ideal man despite (or maybe because of) his Boyfriend Checklist that each potential suitor had to meet and there were three levels that determined said boyfriends’ suitability – Beginner Level which had things like ( “Isn’t hiding another boyfriend” and “Will probably remember my name in the morning”); Intermediate Level (“Misses me when we’re apart” “Can fall asleep in my lap – and still call it a date”); and Top-of-the-Line (“Celebrates my faults” “Kisses me for no good reason”.) There were 26 items that the boyfriend was rated against and if he failed he was out.
When Craig suspects that Travis is coming back into his life from all the clues that Travis’s OCD tendencies left behind, he was happy because he could put that chapter of his life behind him, or so he thought. What he didn’t count on was the old magic still being there. He was now a lawyer but still an activist and Travis’s timing couldn’t have been more perfect in terms of effecting a reconciliation because Craig and Clay were having relationship problems, but Travis fell under Clayton’s spell and in the end he had a tough decision to make.
The book is laugh out loud and will have you in stitches. There are too many funny bits to cover in this review but one that made me chuckle was Travis trying to arrange an appointment with Craig’s mother who is a doctor so that he could sneak Craig’s number or address from her office, only to find out almost too late that she’s a gynecologist.
The ending was the right one and I was pleased that Kluger was able to find a way for everyone to be happy, without creating heartbreak for someone else. The book is memorable and will bring tears to your eyes as you travel with Travis in his obsessive search for his one true love.
Ultimately Almost Like Being In Love is about love, getting second chances, and the loyalty of friends who endure just about anything in the name of friendship.