Title: Cutting Cords (Cutting Cords #3)
Author: Mickie B. Ashling
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Buy link: Amazon.com
Length: Novel (252 pages)
Rating: 3 stars out of 5
A Guest Review by Aunt Lynn
When Sloan Driscoll and Cole Fujiwara become reluctant roommates, neither man is willing to share too much. Sloan is instantly attracted to Cole but knows it’s a hopeless cause; Cole has a steady girlfriend. But one night they share a joint, and Cole opens a window neither anticipated. A relationship may be impossible—both men are living with heart-breaking secrets. While Sloan is smart, sassy, and a brilliant graphic artist, he’s also a pothead with severe body image problems. Cole, a former major league pitcher, has his own personal crisis: he’s going blind. Sloan and Cole are suffering on so many levels, they might not realize that the ultimate salvation could be within each other’s arms.
Cutting Cords Series
Cutting Cords is the second story by Mickie Ashling that I’ve read and reviewed. Her second novel, Impacted was a huge miss for me, as detailed in my review here, but I am always willing to give an author another try, so I was happy to take on CC. I am a sucker for protags with disabilities, especially physical ones, so one of the reasons I wanted to read this book was because both heroes have problems: one is a cutter and the other is going blind. And that cover! I think it’s lovely. Although an overall better read than my previous experience, I had mixed feelings about and several issues with the story, which I will explain in just a bit.
The story opens with Sloan at SFO (San Francisco International Airport) unhappily getting ready to go through security with his father seeing him off. Sloan has caused a whole lot of problems for his family, so they are shipping him off to New York to attend art school and room with Sloan’s father’s best friend’s son, Cole. Cole, on the opposite side of the country, is pissed at his own father for not being given a choice over a new roommate, especially since he has his own problems, most importantly that he is going blind. Though they played together somewhat as children, they haven’t seen each other in over a decade and with neither man happy about the situation, don’t get along. At the very least, Sloan is addicted to weed, caffeine and Xanax, plus has a terrible diet, and Cole is all about nutrition and health, but making matters worse, Cole refuses to tell Sloan about his vision problems, and Sloan also has a secret: he’s a cutter due to significant body image issues. Despite his irritation, Sloan is immediately attracted to Cole, though he thinks it’s a lost cause because Cole has a long-time girlfriend, but an encounter after both men getting high causes Sloan to think that maybe there is a chance. Cole’s reaction and self-denial makes the situation that much worse and there is much hurt and emotion on both sides. Is there any way for these two to see, so to speak, eye to eye and have any kind of chance at happiness together?
I didn’t completely dislike this angsty story, but I had mixed feelings; while there were some things I liked fine, I had conflicting issues with the same or other things.
CC is told in an unusual, interesting narration style of one protag — Sloan — telling his part of the tale first-person, and the other — Cole — telling his part in third-person. Though that took a bit to get used to, I thought it was effective. A problem for me came in when some of the secondary characters contributed narration in third-person as well, plus there are a few sections where there is head-hopping, which left me a bit confused as to whose POV we were getting.
I thought both protags were generally sympathetic with their problems. Sloan’s body image issues and the inability to live up to his father’s expectations causing the need for self-mutilation and drug abuse were heart-wrenching, especially when he was in the throes of a cutting session. I felt his confusion and frustration over Cole’s mixed signals and after-the-fact behavior, and the anger over his lame, what-the-fuck-was-he-thinking proposal. However, I had big problems with how he acted overall. We are told that Sloan is twenty-three-years-old, but for most of the story, I felt he acted like a badly-behaved mid- to late-teen to the point where I found myself questioning “how old is this kid again?” There is a scene the morning after he arrives in NY where he practically has a rude, selfish, childish tantrum because the food Cole stocks and eats isn’t the junk food (soda, coffee, Pop-Tarts) that he normally eats. It is not the only occasion where something like this happens and I don’t know any early-twenties man who acts that way. I know he has issues, but act your age, “dude.” He says early on, when talking about his father:
I hated it when he treated me like I was a fucking ten-year-old instead of someone who had just turned twenty-three.
Well, Sloan, you act like one at times.
I think I connected more with Eurasian Cole, who had to give up a career following in his father’s footsteps in baseball because of his eyesight degeneration, who is facing a dark future, and who is in serious conflict over his sexuality and what is expected of him regarding marriage and children from his traditional Japanese family. As with many Japanese-themed books, themes of honor, pride, respect, tradition and shame are present. Interestingly, as much as Sloan acts like a child at times, Cole’s parents treat him like one because of his disability. But Cole is no angel, either. His fucked-up idea of having it all and hurting Sloan in the process was crappy. Also, Cole describes his weekly meetings at Lighthouse International, an organization helping those with vision loss, as “a great source of comfort,” yet when he gets there for the first appointment we get to witness, he is angry, combative and explosive, completely different than what we are led to believe as he is getting ready to go to the appointment.
Regarding the two of them together, from the moment Sloan shows up, I felt that their interaction was, in my opinion, unnecessarily and unrealistically explosive. Beyond that, however, is that there is inconsistent, schizophrenic behavior on both sides, where they have been fighting for days, then they’re nice to each other, then they’re smexxin it up, then they have conflicting emotions about the other person, then they’re back to verbal — or even physical — assault. At one point, Cole says “We scream and fight like normal people.” I don’t know people who scream and fight like that, especially mixed in with other erratic behavior. Because of this, I really never bought the two of them together as a couple, and when they finally decide — separately — to try a relationship, I felt that they had personality transplants, each acting so almost completely different than the previous rest of the book. Even if I could forgive that, I felt the “want to work it out” part was rushed and happened off-page, cheating me of watching it happen. I wanted to see more of them in a happier, loving space, dealing with their parents (which was glossed over), working through Cole’s increasing blindness, etc.
A few smaller things:
I liked watching the interaction between Cole and his counselor, John, and I found John a likable, interesting character. But a scene in John’s office between him and Sloan felt wrong to me as I thought John told Sloan way too much considering the privileges John was supposed to keep. Also, Sloan’s emotional reaction in that meeting seemed out of character and melodramatic, even considering his emotional issues.
And speaking of emotional reactions, both protags spend quite a bit of the book crying. I realize that both men have big issues, but the number of times tears made an appearance seemed unusually high.
I don’t know how Cole expected to keep his growing blindness from Sloan, his roommate. I found Cole’s clingy, over-protective, self-involved harpy of a girlfriend, Juliana, to be yet another awful female character, and the scenes with her were unpleasant for me. Was it not possible to paint her in a better light? And for those of you who don’t like smexxin with women on the page, be warned that there is a short, but relatively descriptive scene of it here. Other secondary characters, including Sloan’s friend, Emily, and fashion photographer Max were sufficiently developed, with Max more so. We get only snippets from the catalysts of the whole plot device — the parents — making them some of the least fleshed of the secondary cast.
One last, picky niggle, something that may not even be noticeable to other readers, but one that bothered me the entire time I read the book: Sloan’s height. Normally, I would not even really notice something like this, but there were a few mentions around it that didn’t mesh. We are never told exactly how tall he is, but Sloan is described as “very tall” by Cole, who is five-foot-eleven, and yet is a full head shorter than his six-foot-four father (My head barely grazed his chin…Although I was rapidly approaching his height). First, at age twenty-three, isn’t he just about done growing, or already done? Second, according to head length calculators, Dad’s head is almost eleven inches, which would put Sloan under the above circumstances at about five-foot-four, which cannot be right. Then later in the book, Sloan describes Cole as a little bit shorter than me, his head reached my nose. There is something wrong there.
While better than the previous book by this author that I read and containing aspects that I liked, inconsistent behavior, schizophrenic characters, rivers of tears and a rushed ending made Cutting Cords a less than stellar read for me. As usual, I am but one opinion in a sea of many. I welcome differing points of view.