A Guest Review by Feliz
Summary Review: An interesting, well-written, somewhat halloween-y story with an overall dreamlike feeling to it and a fittingly vague ending that still didn’t work for me mainly due to a strong dislike of one main character.
The Blurb: Steven Macklin wakes up in a ditch one morning in foul, wet weather with no idea where he is or how he came to be there. Seriously injured, he struggles across bleak heathland to find shelter. The only house he finds is weather-beaten and deserted, although he’s too sensible a guy to fall for the cliche of a haunted mansion.
When he collapses and is taken in by the handsome Eliot, Steven finds himself in a very disturbing situation — and in the bed of this strange, possessive man.
The Review: When Steve Macklin wakes up in a ditch in the middle of nowhere, disoriented, hurting badly, cold and miserable, he barely remembers his name and has no idea where he is and how he got there. All he knows he needs to get out of the rain and find shelter, a phone, some human being he can ask for help. The only buliding he eventually comes across is a grandiose, if somewhat derelict manor that seems to have only one inhabitant: Eliot, a young man who dresses strangely and speaks in an outdated manner.
Eliot is a mystery. He calls Steve “his gift” and tells him that he “asked” for Steve, but won’t tell who supposedly “gave” Steve to him, and he never comes clear about who he actually is, where they are and how Steve got there in the first place.
And it’s not only Eliot who is strange. Steve knows his name and bits and pieces of his former life, but little beyond. Big chunks of time seem to be missing from his memory and even from his current reality; from the day he arrives at Eliot’s house, all he’s ever aware of is being in bed with Eliot. Which, initially , Steve doesn’t really mind, since Eliot gives him greater pleasure than he’s ever known, and he soon finds his own feelings matching Eliots vows of undying love.
But any questions he asks are met with avoidant answers or even occasionally with impatience from Eliot. Despite everything, Steve can’t shed a feeling of being trapped in a parallel reality, and the little bit of his mind that isn’t utterly bespelled with his generous, demanding lover can’t stop asking questions. He knows the day will come when he won’t be able to avoid confronting Eliot any longer, when he’ll demand the truth. Whatever the truth may turn out to be.
This smootly written story was creepy, haunting and riveting; I found myself constantly fighting an urge to sneak a peak at the last page (I didn’t, mind! 😉 ) The first person narrative from Steve’s point of view worked perfectly here; I keenly felt Steve’s confusion, his unease and his struggle to figure out what happened to him. The narrative perspective also helped build up the tension toward the solution of the riddle which came with a nice plot twist at the end. This story would have lost by adding in Eliot’s point of view; in fact the whole point of it was Eliot remaining mysterious.
Despite the technically fine and absorbing writing I couldn’t really warm up to this story. For one, I dreaded almost from page one what it was going to come down to, kept reading hoping I as wrong and, to my disappointment, found that I’d been right all along. I didn’t care much for the hopelessness and sadness of this all.
But my bigger problem was with Eliot, whom I just couldn’t make myself like. I get it that he had to be cagey and closemouthed; as I said above, the mystery around Eliot and Steve trying to figure it out was crucial to the story. And due to the short format and the necessity to keep Eliot sketchy, there isn’t much about Eliot’s background, not enough to make me understand what motivated him anyway. But to me, Eliot came across as arrogant, presumptuous and patronizing, and the solution made him look selfish. No, I didn’t like him at all, and my heart broke a little for Steve being bound to such a one.
So, this is not a romance despite the hot sex and the declarations of love, and it doesn’t have a conventional ending either. It’s still an unusual story, finely written, creepy and haunting. People who are into that kind of thing, the “gothic” feeling, and like their scary stories spicy and with a twist might love this a lot more than I did.
This story was first published in 2008 by Aspen Mountain Press