A Guest Review by Aunt Lynn
The gay marriage ban is nothing personal, unless you’re a Cuban-American gay man in the heart of red-state America.
Carlo Batista takes on longtime conservative Tall Tony Scipione in a race for state representative. And he takes on mystery man Brian Gallagher in the race for his heart. Breaking all the rules of polite society, Carlo proves that love, sex, politics, and religion do mix — with hot and heart-warming results.
Originally self-published in 2005 and now re-released as an ebook through Loose ID, Nothing Personal is by Scott Pomfret and Scott Whittier, the real-life partners who make up the Romentics. I believe I have now read everything these two have published with mixed success. I have mostly liked them, though my review of Surf -n- Turf (here) was not very favorable and I said at the time that I wasn’t sure I’d pick up another book by the Scotts as a result. I thought about that as Wave asked if I wanted to read and review NP and decided to give them another chance. Though not without problems for me, I did like this one better than the last.
The story opens with one of our protags, Carlo, a young, gay Cuban-American working as a customer service rep in an HMO, facing off against the Religious Right with several of his friends at a huge rally on gay marriage outside of the capitol building in Columbus, Ohio. In the throng of people he spies a tough, but good-looking man on “his” side, who he dubs “Scarf-boy.” Sometime later, through a series of events, he meets Scarf-boy, now known as Gallagher, and they go on a date to the gay marriage amendment final vote, the outcome of which was unsurprisingly not in their favor. Impassioned by the defeat of marriage equality in his red state, Carlo decides to run against his own district State Representative, Tony Scipione, the long-time disreputable and conservative democratic incumbent. Though he is completely ignorant of what it takes to run for office, Carlo quickly learns how to be a candidate and pulls together a campaign. But the road to possible victory is not smooth when you’re running against dirty-playing “Tall” Tony; winning over voters will take creativity and his campaign staff is up to the challenge. At the same time, he tries to have a relationship with the mysterious Brian Gallagher, a man reluctant to take part in his lover’s political life and who disappears for days at a time without explanation.
I would classify this novel more in the genre of gay political fiction than m/m romance as much more emphasis is placed on Carlo’s political journey than his relationship with Gallagher, so if you are looking for a sweet romance — such as other books in the Romentics line — then this is probably not the book for you. That did not make it a bad read, just not one I expected from the Scotts as their previous offerings have been heavily romantic.
Overall, I found it to be well-written with good world-building and a lot of attention to detail, and there are quite a few things to like about this book. Even though I would have preferred it to have taken up less space in the story, I found the campaign process interesting. I also felt the dialog, which was quick and smart, helped give the story flavor and felt believable to me.
I found the large cast of secondary characters to be colorful and vivid — in some cases more developed than Gallagher — and Good Hope, Ohio, is a character of its own. The small, post-industrial depressed town described as “insufficiently fabulous for a gay man” is riddled with closed down and abandoned factories and warehouses, and the reader gets a real feel of what it is like to live in this or any other town like it across the country.
There are humorous parts, such as the “Candidate School” Carlo attends, a forty-eight hour boot camp of sorts where candidate hopefuls are made or broken, the two God Squaders (who Carlo nicknames “Christ on the Cross” and “Ten Commandments”) who follow him around everywhere, and the older woman who wants to do nothing but talk about gay sex with Carlo. Also, Sammy, the boyfriend of Carlo’s campaign manager/friend, Kat, provides subtle comic relief throughout:
Sammy was touting a new invention that he called the GGPS—gay global positioning system. “It lets you find a hookup by just tapping your laptop or BlackBerry,” he explained.
I thought this paragraph to quite funny:
Gireaux [the Candidate School instructor] had done her job well, but nothing could have prepared Carlo for life on the campaign trail. When he first went door-to-door for votes, he dressed in white pants and a white shirt with a tie because he had decided the outfit conveyed purity and wholesomeness. Unfortunately, the outfit conveyed to most voters that he was on his mission with the Church of Latter-day Saints. Many refused to answer their doors, and the few who did pestered him for free Books of Mormon. At one home a Rottweiler humped his leg while the owners laughed. At another, Carlo met a man who explained that the government had conspired to lodge computer chips under his cat’s skin. At successive apartments, he changed a lightbulb, judged an argument between a husband and wife, carried a stale diaper to the garbage can, and won a hand of seven-card stud. A busty, middle-aged woman wanted to show him her nudes.
Like I said, the romance between Carlo and Gallagher is overshadowed by the Carlo’s political/life journey; in fact, blink and you miss them getting together. Related to this, there are large jumps in time where their relationship is developing and we don’t get to see it. For example, there is a more than one month gap between their first date and when we next see them, and they supposedly have been seeing each other during that time. I would have really liked to have witnessed them interacting more, and I feel that based on the fact that we don’t get to see interact, the chemistry between them was lacking.
Additionally, I felt like I didn’t get to know the enigmatic Gallagher hardly at all because he doesn’t have much screentime, and even when we get his POV — which I think is maybe literally five pages total in the story — he’s secretive with us as well. Even toward the end, when he plays perhaps a larger role and works at redeeming himself, I still couldn’t say how I felt about him. I can’t even call him an antihero as I don’t feel I know enough about him. The problem is even larger, however, because this is not just an issue for us, the reader; Gallagher’s mysterious life means Carlo himself barely knows the man he is seeing and sleeping with. For example, almost five months after they start dating he has yet to know what Gallagher does for a living or his age. And even later, a few months after, he thinks:
Carlo thought, I hardly know this man. He seemed predatory. It was hard for Carlo to believe he had allowed himself to be vulnerable, to let himself be fucked by him. He was a stranger.
Finally, the showdown toward the end between the good guys and bad guys reminded me of parts of Surf -n- Turf. This is not a good thing as I felt that much of that book was just plain silly.
While I didn’t dislike the story, going into it thinking I would be getting a romance and instead getting a political gay fiction story was a bit disappointing. But there were things countering that that made it a decent read, so as long as you know what you are getting ahead of time, don’t mind one of your protags a bit under-developed, and like stories with a political flavor, then this may be a good read for you.