Title: The Janitor (The Contenders #1)
Author: Jan Irving
Publisher: Loose Id
Genre: Contemporary M/M, Sports (Boxing)
Buy link: Amazon.com
Length: Novel (171 pages)
Rating: 3.75 of 5 stars
A guest review by Buda
Summary Review: A sometimes endearing story of complete opposites who must fight, figuratively and literally, to reach the happy ending they need.
I’m a naturally optimistic type of person, you know? Yeah, I think good things will happen, only they usually don’t. Take Noel: even though he’s educated and rich and he don’t think he’s even gay, I want to belong to him. I want him to take me completely—Dane Connelly
Dane Connelly is a gay janitor and boxer with a soft heart and a simple outlook–he wants to meet the right man, someone who will look past his macho sport and put him in the place of a submissive. He wants to fall in love and belong to his partner.
On the surface, Noel Atherton, an intellectual, shy, and sexually repressed university graduate student with a crippled leg, could not be the dominant lover that Dane longs for. But after their first meeting, when Dane disables the fire alarm in the library and lights a cigarette, Noel is drawn from his shell. Soon, Noel needs to touch Dane, exploring his sexuality for the first time. And both learn that looks can be deceiving.
However, Noel’s controlling father is appalled by the relationship and quietly arranges to get Dane out of the way and punish him for daring to love a man so far above his station.
Noel is the survivor of a tragic automobile accident that crippled his leg and left him under the thumb of his domineering father. He is pursuing a doctorate at the local university and he spends a lot of time in the upstairs library. As the blurb says, Noel is a shy intellectual, the complete opposite of Dane.
Dane is the janitor at the university. He is very out-going, nearly talking Noel’s leg off when they’re in the library together. He is also incredibly sweet and, well, slow. He trains at the local gym, guided the the fatherly hand of Charlie, a gruff, slightly homophobic older man who owns the place. When he cleans the library, he likes Noel to read to him. Dane is smitten with Noel before the book begins and he wants to earn Noel’s love.
Standing in their way, of course, is Noel’s father who does some pretty nasty things to Dane’s apartment and even hires someone to beat up Dane. The book allows for a quite a bit of growth on the part of both Noel and Dane. Noel has to overcome his father’s negative and heavy-handed influence in his life and learn to love a man who is definitely not what someone of his social class would consider worthy of his time (except maybe as a deeply kept secret tryst). Dane’s growth is dictated by his limited intellect and the consequences of Noel’s father’s meddling, but is perhaps even more far-reaching than Noel’s.
At the beginning of the book, I was more than a little uncomfortable with Dane. He is presented with such childlike innocence that I almost felt that anything romantic or sexual happening between him and Noel would be bordering on abusive. Here’s an example. Dane has just asked Noel to accompany him to the beach to watch the tides. Noel can’t walk in the sand because of his damaged leg. Dane apologizes for his mistake and for making Noel nervous, then says,
“I’m gay, just in case you didn’t figure it. Yeah, I’m bein’ straight with you about it, in case you missed I was hittin’ on you. Some fellas, they like to, you know, ambush their dates. Play it like a buddy, but I don’t go that way. I’m straight up. Well, not straight, but you know, I wouldn’t lie to you none. I really, really think you’re a sensational person, so I was thinking hot dogs.”
I persevered through my hesitancy and so should you. Shortly after Dane discovers what Noel’s father has done to his apartment, I forgot to worry that Noel might be taking advantage of Dane’s slowness. Dane proved himself to be perfectly capable of looking after himself, in and out of the boxing ring. I did have niggles about the light D/s play in their smexin’ scenes. It seemed to exaggerate the differences far more than necessary, but that was my hang up and may not be yours.
Overall, I liked this one, despite my many reservations. While it is endearing (Dane’s scenes with animals, including his “lady fish” Goldie), it’s not without its problems. Some of the plot points seemed a bit too melodramatic, especially where Noel’s father was concerned. Still, it was nice watching the growth of these two characters. If you’re a fan of Jan Irving or want a sweet tale with only a little angst thrown in, then add this one to your list.