Title: Scar Tissue
Author: GL Roberts
Publisher: Seventh Window Publications
Cover Artist: n/a
Amazon: Scar Tissue
Genre: historical (1970’s)
Length: Novella (152 pdf pages)
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
A Guest Review by Feliz
Summary Review: This book was a surprising read, not quite what I expected, but nevertheless enjoyable in a different way .
The Blurb: It was 1976, the year of the .38 Special, the .45 Magnum, Cold War threats and Vietnam Vets returning state side looking for jobs. It was also a time when being gay could get you fired from your job, beat up or killed. This was especially true for Bob Elkins, third year DEA officer who finds himself deeply attracted to CIA newcomer Mike Wells. Although Mike returns Bob’s romantic gestures, he goes cold when it comes time to become intimate. Is Mike playing with Bob or is there something more going on? To find out, Bob must put his reputation and job on the line and risk everything.
The year was 1976, a time when being gay meant you must hide in the closet or risk losing everything.
The Review: When I picked up this book, I expected its main focus to be on the conflict of a relationship between two gay men who must both remain closeted due to the restraints of their time and environment. I expected angst, and drama, and given the main characters’ professions, perhaps something along the lines of a little spy action. Instead I got a character-driven romance between two winsome, down-to-earth men who were firmly rooted in their time and society.
The need for secrecy is very much a part of both characters’ everyday life, particularly when it comes to their professional lives as an agent of the newly founded DEA or, respectively, as a CIA recruit. Both were in the military before, the experience honing their awareness for caution as well as their ability to hide. Their military time also issued them with some rather haunting memories, especially Bob; there’s one particularly heartbreaking flashback of him in Vietnam where he holds his dying lover in his arms, unable to give the man any further comfort because they are in company.
However, Bob has long ago made his peace with this aspect of his life. In private, among his roommate and friends, he’s out – he’s quite good at compartmentalizing, although the borders blur on occasion, namely with his friend Ray, who happens to be Mike’s instructor at Langley. Ray is surprisingly open-minded, even supportive of Bob’s and Mike’s budding relationship. Ray’s only worry is whether their relationship might jeopardize possible joint missions in the future, but he takes Bob’s negative reassurances at face value and goes with it. Mike is slow to trust, but once he does, he does so implicitly and doesn’t think twice about following Bob’s lead.
To my pleasant surprise, the necessity to keep their relationship a secret was not a source of angst between Bob and Mike, nor was it the reason why it took them almost a year to consummate their loving relationship. While both Bob and Mike were constantly aware of the need to be cautious and discreet in public, this was rather a fact of life to both of them. Something that just had to be heeded, like looking left and right before crossing a street. They built their relationship around it and despite of it, which I found endearingly realistic and totally appropriate for the spirit of the times this is set in.
The 70’s were not as liberal as the 60’s had been, but not as narrow-minded as the 80’s turned out to become; in many ways, this decade was a time of changes. Scar Tissue generally conveyed a keen sense of its time, not only through the main character’s mindsets, but also with its attention to detail. Clothes, cars, music, political events mentioned, everything added up to a harmonious scenery in front of which the story could unfold.
The actual conflict revolved around facts in Mike’s past, and it was beautiful to watch how they both worked at getting the old specters out of their way. I found that Bob’s patience amounted to that of a saint, with all the hot and cold and the mixed signals Mike put him through without ever giving a viable reason for this behavior. Then, once Mike summoned enough courage to come clear, Bob reacted in an all too human yet comprehensible way that in turn demanded trust and patience from Mike. Nicely done.
This was what I’d call a quiet story, no blowing-up of things, no action sequences, not even outstanding drama. It wasn’t overly emotional either, though poignant in a subdued, understated way. An enjoyable read, and warmly recommended.