A Guest Review by Cole
Review Summary: A well written but angsty story that often had me wanting to usher the plot along.
Stephan Burke’s relationship with Eric has hit a rough patch, and they can’t seem to reconnect after their summer apart. Despite being good together, Stephan feels something undefinable is missing. Now starting grad school, he’s meeting up with old friends who offer not-so-sage-advice, rediscovering how much time schoolwork consumes, and—Eric aside—crushing hard on the professor he works for.
Professor Jeffrey Tegan is new to campus and eager to befriend his TA. Jeff turns out to be almost everything Stephan has ever wanted in a man: he’s smart, outdoorsy, likes music, and is smokin’ hot. Only Jeff is just getting over his recent divorce, and Stephan has no reason to think Jeff is anything other than totally straight. He knows his crush on his professor is clichéd and ridiculous, but he’s not fulfilled by what he has with Eric… is it so unreasonable to want more?
A note from the start: The narration in this novel is in the present tense. That can be jarring for some and it is sometimes hard to get into the groove of the prose.
Stephan is coming back to school after a year off to start his Masters in American History. He is excited not only that will his courseload be a lot more suited to him (he’s very studious for a social guy and aptly named “pretty boy”), but that he will get to see his boyfriend Eric who has spent the last two months in his hometown working with an outreach program and taking care of his alcoholic mother. Yet right from the beginning things feel off. Where once a few months ago, their relationship seemed as easy as beer with a friend and hot sex, now there always seems to be this awkward energy between them. Constantly worrying about what’s going on and if he is somehow the cause of it, Steph starts to take notice of how they act around each other. Not only are they hardly ever having sex, but Eric now seems disapproving of him anytime he gets drunk or high with his friends. He’s not perpetually stoned, and he’s really very responsible, but Steph also likes to let loose sometimes, and frankly, Eric seems really uptight. Then they start to go a week here or there not even talking, even though for the first time in a long time, they live within a few minutes of each other. Stephan is baffled, but he just assumes that he wants too much, things Eric can’t (or won’t) give him — like letting Steph top, letting his guard down, and actually acting like he’s happy to see him.
Conversely, the new teacher that Steph has been assigned as TA to is not only smoking hot, but intelligent, interested in the same things as him, and newly single. Professor Jeff Tegan is new to the faculty and as such, needs a little help here and there navigating the waters of academia at this particular school. They instantly take a liking to each other and while Steph seems unable to hide his natural flirtation and growing crush, Jeff starts to become a growing paradox. He is newly divorced, so straight, right? He also seems to like Steph a lot, often asking him to dinner or drinks, studying or even hiking. But friends do those things too, right? Stephen is so screwed. He’s got a boyfriend who he thinks he still loves and a relationship he really does want to mend. Yet, at the same time, he has never felt so familiar with someone right from the beginning like he has with Jeff.
I was really looking forward to this book. Sometimes you really just want to read a good love story, with no frills — with real people. And this book has a lot of strong points. Ultimately, however, all its component pieces never seemed to come together. The major downfall of this story is with the character of Steph and how he is written. I like the character himself. All the time I was reading it, I kept thinking how much he was getting on my nerves, harping on about these feelings and analyzing every damn thing. Then I remembered the first time I was in love and that period where I hoped to god it was requited, but I had secretly convinced myself that it wouldn’t be. I was torn up inside. On top of that, I was acting like a total lunatic — I didn’t even know who I was anymore. Then I sat back and thought, “Awww crap.” I was just like Steph. In my head so damn much that I had no clue what was going on around me. The problem is, I try to pretend that time of temporary insanity never really happened and I don’t want to read about someone else going through the same thing — It’s a major downer. Even the fact that the narration is third person close doesn’t get us out of Steph’s head. On top of that, the prose moved at a very slow pace. I’m not kidding when I say that probably 25% of the book was taken up with mundane tasks the reader had no reason to hear about. We don’t need to know what you have planned every day of the week or a paragraph interjected on its own about jogging. This is an editing problem, but if it doesn’t further the plot you have to cut it. Otherwise, the pace crawls along and your readers get bored.
The only other major problem I had was the amount of on page time we get with Jeff. I really, really liked Jeff. If I met Jeff in real life I’d totally go for him. It isn’t my bias, though, when I tell you that we didn’t get to know him very well. For so much that we get to know Steph, even too much sometimes, Jeff is an enigma right up until the end. It created suspense, sure — but that was at the detriment of actually getting to see them in a relationship once it happened. The ratio of the relationships in the story are as follows: about 40% with Eric, 40% Steph pining over Jeff, and 20% of the book actually devoted to the two of them together. And out of that, only about 5% was after they got together. All in all, I liked the characters a lot, but the author could have cut about 40% of the novel and used it to explore more time with Steph and Jeff.
As for the rest, it was actually quite good. Alix Bekins is a very good writer. I understood our protag a lot better than those in most novels. The characters were all very real, well rounded, and diverse. She wrote the setting of a college campus to a tee. The parties, how students act in classes and the stunts they pull. It was so like my college days that I started to get really nostalgic — until I realized how great not being in school was, like when someone pukes on the carpet, or it takes all the caffeine from Columbia to make it through finals week. I did like that the point of view seemed almost like a running commentary about what Steph was seeing, feeling, thinking. A little bit here or there would have been wonderful because it makes the prose full of little details that make characters and scenes come alive. Too much of a good thing, I suppose. I guess that’s what was good, yet mostly bad about this story — its overindulgent, which was ultimately the coup de grace for me. I just wanted to put Steph out of his misery 🙁
If you like a lot of angst, you might really enjoy this. It is a study of two relationships and how they can be so different at different stages — one failing and one beginning. Alix Bekins is new to me and I believe that she is a very promising author. Possibly with a heavier editing pen, this story might have thrived. I wish I could say it did for me.