Title: Woke Up in a Strange Place
Author: Eric Arvin
Buy Link: Buy Link Woke Up in a Strange Place
Genre: M/M Paranormal
Length: Novel (240 pages)
Rating: 5+ stars out of 5, DIK
A Guest Review by Cole
Review Summary: An odyssey of the epic sort through the relationships and experiences of Joe’s life and his rediscovery of those memories, both joyful and painful. Life-affirming, poignant, insightful, and at times hilarious, this story took me in from the very first page and wouldn’t let go until the last secret was revealed.
Joe wakes up in a barley field with no clothes, no memories, and no idea how he got there. Before he knows it, he’s off on the last great journey of his life. With his soul guide Baker and a charge to have courage from a mysterious, alluring, and somehow familiar Stranger, Joe sets off through a fantastical changing landscape to confront his past.
The quest is not without challenges. Joe’s past is not always an easy thing to relive, but if he wants to find peace—and reunite with the Stranger he is so strongly drawn to—he must continue on until the end, no matter how tempted he is to stop along the way.
I was drawn to this book immediately the moment I saw its cover on the Dreamspinner website. The gorgeous cover, painted by artist and cover artist Paul Richmond, is strangely serene and peaceful, and I remember at the time hoping that the beautiful art on the cover accurately represented the pages within. I bought the book the day it came out, and immeditely upon reading, I was captivated. This story is based on a single idea — one that has been explored countless times in literature and film, yet which when paired with Eric Arvin’s beautiful prose and the genre of m/m romance itself, becomes truly unique — a trip into the afterlife for answers about life, death, and the love found along the way. Here, Eric Arvin takes our young Odysseus through an epic adventure in the afterlife, each encounter with a strange being or situation demonstrating a major moment of his life that Joe is due to remember, for only in acceptance and remembrance of his successes and failures in life will Joe learn from them and be able to move on. From childhood friends to teenage heartbreak, from struggling to come out to finding love and failure as an adult, Joe’s memories get succeedingly difficult to face, until becoming too difficult all together. If he does not face his past and find a way to understand it, he will never move on, stuck in the limbo of his Journey. Even more upsetting, if he doesn’t finish his Journey, he might never learn who the alluring Stranger is who periodically shows up to give him courage. As a result, Joe might never unravel the greatest mystery of all — his death.
He doesn’t even remember his name when he wakes up naked in the field of barley. He doesn’t know who he his, where he is, or who the strange and beautiful man is who shows up with an eager dog and tells him that if he has the courage, they will meet again and the end of the Journey the man insists Joe must take. When the man disappears and he has nothing more to do, he sets off to explore. It seems as if each little thing, the feel of the grass on his toes, or the image of the night sky brings upon a memory. Slowly at first, he starts to remember things: his name, the face of his mother, his first memories. So far he has let his feet wander where they may until he comes across the largest tree that he’s ever seen, with the largest treehouse he’s ever seen, spiraling level after level into the boughs. Feeling a compulsion to enter, David follows the sound of music into the treehouse and comes across a man playing a guitar. He says his name is Baker and that he is to be Joe’s guide through the afterlife, and on his Journey. They set off, getting to know one another and bonding like old friends as they confront and deal with the situations and people from Joe’s life that he is destined to face.
I loved this book so much for the breadth of scope it encompasses. It is insightful into the nature of celebrating life and honoring it in a way that includes honoring death as well, not as an ending, but as a transistion from one form to another. The story was also hilarious at times, as Eric Arvin took real advantage of certain situations to show the difference between different periods of Joe’s life and how they manifest themselves after death — Joe’s childhood friend 3P, who teaches Joe how to regain his childhood; Joe’s grandfather, who in life was keeping some secrets of his own, but who, in the afterlife, has wings like an angel and loves to swoop through the pink candy clouds and roll and dive through the air, joyous in a way he rarely was in life; and also Guy, Joe’s vain best friend from college, who is more of himself in death than he even was in life, having made his body into a monstrous display of masculinity (a giant with a giant penis) and the leader of a fraternity of men who spend the afterlife playing naked wrestling, having constant sex, and reveling in their brotherhood in a glaring tribute to Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue scenes of frolicking half-naked men. These were only a drop in the bucket of the amazingly varied characters Joe meets in the afterlife, each a bit more magnanimous than they were in life. I particularly loved Phil and Buck, the gay talking horses 🙂
The world itself is beautifully built, a place that is an extension of the mind. It isn’t unusual to see the world quite literally shifting around a character to reflect their mood. It is a place a bit like Oz, yet also similar to the depth of the dreamscape in the movie Inception. The place is like a blank canvas, it only limitation being the boundaries of the mind. This lends to each day being an act of creation, and we see this as we and Joe together learn who he really is. The slow reveal of each piece of Joe’s life builds the suspense of what is coming. We, the reader, nor Joe understand exactly what that is, but we know that there are things coming that he will have to face that are difficult, such as: how did he die, and what role in his death did the Stranger have?
I had a difficult time deciding how to rate this book. This is a romance, but it is an unusual one. The on-screen interaction between Joe and his lover is only towards the end, but most of the romance takes place with Joe and a shadow of the Stranger. He knows that he loved deeply in his life, but he simply isn’t ready to remember. Instead, the romance is formed around what we don’t know about his lover and how that affects the story. Also, some readers might get bored with what they perceive is a lack-of-conflict. Much of the novel is Joe’s discovery of himself, and since we don’t know anymore than he does about his life (which isn’t much), quite a bit of the story is his delight at seeing his old friends again. I quite enjoyed this part of the book myself, as Joe was finally finding happiness, and doing it on his own. These are the types of lessons he has to learn before he be reunited with his lover, or else they risk the love they already have. In the end, I decided to rate this story DIK, because not only did these things not bother me personally, but I’ve found myself thinking about this book quite a lot since I finished reading it. It has stayed with me and carved a place on my self reserved for my very favorite books, just as Eric Arvin has carved a place as one of my favorite authors. Others may not agree, and I assure you that this story won’t be to some readers’ liking. It is certainly for the more adventurous reader, and could not in any way be classified as a typical romance story. For me, that was the fun of it. Highly Recommended.