A Guest Review by Feliz
Summary Review: This started out as a gripping, deeply moving story with a disaster movie – worthy plot, but it unfortunately followed along with said film genre’s penchant for saccharine subplots and endings.
The Blurb: Ryan Ortiz and Nathan Richardson are estranged lovers who shouldn’t be apart. When Ryan decides to go direct to LA to fight for a second chance he is caught up in the biggest earthquake to hit the city since records began.
LA is destroyed, burning, people homeless, people dying, and fires are ignited high in the LA hills above Nathan’s apartment. Nathan is trapped and Ryan is his only hope.
It is a race against time and the powerful all consuming destruction of nature for Ryan to find Nathan, trapped in the ruins of his home in the hills, and to get both of them to help before the fire consumes everything.
The Review: Photographer Ryan and model-turned-actor Nathan first met and fell in love during a photo shooting in New York, but then Nathan moved to LA for his acting career. Their long-distance-relationship ended abruptly when Ryan, crazed with (ungrounded, I have to add) jealousy over Nathan’s best friend and fellow actor Jason, ran off and slept with his ex-girlfriend, Allison. Once Ryan managed to get his head back straight, he realized what an idiot he’d been and begged Nathan’s forgiveness. Despite his erratic behavior and the ensuing painful breakup, Nathan can’t stop loving Ryan, but he’s adamant in his refusal – he won’t let Ryan hurt him again.
Now, five months later, Ryan finally can’t bear it any longer to be without Nathan. His ex-girlfriend Allison, by now turned into Ryan’s best galpal, keeps pushing him to reconcile with Nathan. But just on the day he flies down to try and patch up the relationship he had broken, LA falls victim to the most catastrophic earthquake of the century.
When Ryan arrives at Nathan’s house in the hills north of LA, the whole neighborhood is destroyed and a forest fire is rapidly coming down the hill. Since pretty much all of LA is in ruins and burning, Ryan knows that nobody will come out there looking for survivors anytime soon; he himself only made it alive so far by pure coincidence and luck. His increasingly frantic search for Nathan is finally successful, although Nathan is badly wounded and can barely walk. But the wildfire is closing in, and their only chance at survival lies several miles away, with the fire swath at the foot of the hills. Ignoring the injuries he came by in getting Nathan out of the collapsing building, Ryan sets about bringing the man he loves to safety or die trying.
While reading this book I really felt like watching a disaster movie. The horror and destruction during and after the earthquake were described in a vivid, down-to-life way. Fates of individuals were smartly instrumentalized to show the impact of the catastrophe on the lives of people, both those living in the disaster area as well as their relatives and friends abroad. Families ripped apart, loved ones missing, the insanity of triage not only inflicted on trained professionals, but also on normal people: on their way down the hill, Ryan and Nathan manage to save someone’s life, but they have to leave someone else behind to die in order to save themselves. Theirs and many other people’s examples illustrate the silent heroism which such a monumental event brings forth in even the most ordinary person.
I found this part of the story heartbreakingly intense and gripping; some of the scenes had me actually choking back a tear or two. I rooted for Ryan and Nathan on their slow and painful struggle toward safety, which mirrored their equally painful struggle to mend their broken relationship. If the book had ended here, you’d hear me praise it to the skies now.
Unfortunately, the plot then took a sharp turn and changed into something that, even though still closely related to the earthquake theme, felt like an entirely different novel. Suddenly Allison, Ryan’s ex-girlfriend, and Allison’s baby take center stage.
Even though she was in Phoenix, far away from the disaster area, shock and concern about Ryan’s and Nathan’s fate threatened to bring on a miscarriage for Allison. Aside from that, Ryan’s and Nathan’s families, who were apparently close to each other, also took a major role in the further development of the story. What had started as a literally earth-shaking experience for two men who wanted nothing more than to survive in order to reclaim happiness together, suddenly became a family drama, complete with meddling relatives, mutual blame and crippling feelings of guilt, reconciliation and a larger-than-life acquiescent father-by-proxy, crowned by a lengthy epilogue which spanned the next sixty or so years and tied up the threads of life for most of the acting persons.
I can see how other readers might adore this book just for that particular subplot and ending, but it simply didn’t work for me. I beg to keep in mind that this is only me – and most probably a matter of my personal taste – but after all the intensity and heartbreak of before, the subplot-cum-diapers felt like a cold shower to me. Others might very well feel differently.
Side note: This book’s title refers to the nursery rhyme “Humpty Dumpty”, which serves as an epigraph:
“Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again!”