A Guest Review by Alexi
Joel Martinez, a practical and organized computer programmer, is roommates with Ian Cooper, a certified IQ-in-the-stratosphere mathematical genius who literally can’t find his own underwear in the mess of his day-to-day life. When Joel uneasily leaves Ian for the holidays, he ends up telling stories to his sister and discovers he feels much more for Ian than he thought. So when Ian calls, distraught because the only other thing in his life that loves him (a half-feral cat named Manky Bastard) is going to have to be put down, Joel hurries back home hoping that opposites really do attract.
If I Must begins with Joel Martinez taping a plethora of sticky notes and instructions to the fridge in his apartment in a desperate attempt to keep his ditzy room-mate Ian alive while Joel is away for the holidays. Joel then leaves and goes home but finds that he just can’t get Ian out of his mind. The story then becomes a series of flashbacks that reveal a very special – if slightly eccentric – relationship between two men who are completely different but somehow perfect for each other.
The way that Amy Lane builds up both characters in this story is really clever. She leads us into thinking that each of the men is a familiar stereotype and then, just as we’re feeling comfy, she whips the carpet out from under us and reveals that they both have hidden and heart-breaking depths. Even though the story is told in the third person, exclusively from Joel’s POV, I never felt that I was unsure of Ian’s personality or motivations, which is quite an achievement.
I loved the way we’re really shown that the two of them fit together as a couple, how Ian fills Joel’s deep-seated desire to be needed and Ian fills Joel’s to have someone actually see him as a person and not just a brain. Their little habits, the nick-names, in-jokes and catch-phrases they use with each other, texture their interactions until you can’t imagine either of them being with anyone else. And I have to admit for a sneaky but passionate love for Manky Bastard, the snarky cat that brings them together. Anyone who has ever been owned by a cat will recognise something of them in her.
There isn’t a whole lot of sex in this story, and for those of us who (occasionally!) get sick of ‘buckets of cum’ that’s a relief – but some people might miss it, especially since the chemistry between these two is enough to singe the old paint off your walls. Joel’s conversations with his family are mostly real and funny; however towards the end of the story his mother’s reactions seemed a little too easily accepting, especially in what we’re told has been a traditional Mexican family.
Other than that, I really can’t pick at anything in this little gem of a novella, other than the fact that I wish it had been twice as long. For anyone who’s been getting sick of stories that deliver insta-love followed by a hundred pages of nothing but repetitive sex, I highly recommend this thoughtful and beautifully written tale of love and friendship.