Title: Beauty in the Breakdown
Author: E.L. Esch
Buy Link: Buy Link Beauty in the Breakdown
Genre: M/M contemporary romance
Length: Long Novel
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
A guest review by Jenre
Summary Review: A book which deals well with the sensitive theme of recovery from partner abuse but was hampered by a confusing narrative style.
Luke Martin Cleary isn’t out of the closet to his brother, and that’s always been okay since he isn’t involved. Then he meets Rowan, a fragile man with a dark past and one hot body. But Rowan’s heart and body are broken and guarded, and it’s going to take a lot of love to touch someone so completely untouchable. Literally.
Rowan Wilheim Nails is a man in pain. Ever since an abusive falling out with his ex-boyfriend, he’s developed a phobia of being touched by another person–a phobia of being hurt again. So when Luke and Rowan meet at a bar and end up at Luke’s apartment later on, Rowan is skeptical of spending the night in Luke’s bed. There’s only one thing he can do to make touching Luke’s skin bearable–get drunk.
Luke hates Rowan’s coping method, but how can he help change it when he doesn’t understand Rowan’s situation? By getting involved, he decides, even if that means divulging his secret to his brother. And so Luke begins breaking Rowan and his walls down, slowly and tenderly and maybe a little more roughly in the bedroom, but definitely without hurting him again. No matter how long it takes or how untouchable Rowan claims to be, Luke is determined to heal Rowan so that one day there’ll be nothing between their hearts but each other’s skin.
I’m always interested in books which focus on difficult themes and the themes of this book appealed to me. The story follows Luke who after the death of his parents in a car accident has raised his younger brother since he was 18. Now, 26, he meets Rowan and has an instant attraction to the troubled young man. Rowan has just come out of an abusive relationship and finds it almost unbearable to be touched. Luke finds his patience stretched to the limit as he tries to respect Rowan’s boundaries whilst finding it almost irresistible to keep his hands of Rowan’s body.
This was a very difficult book for me to get into at first. The story is told from Luke’s first person point of view and the narrative style is not one I would consider instantly accessible. Firstly because he’s what I would call a naval gazer. He spends much of the first part of the book in an miasma of introspection where he thinks about his life, Rowan and his past. He comes across as wholly self absorbed. Secondly, Luke’s thoughts are a jumble of overly flowery or poetic language, half formed thoughts and obscure references to his feelings. It made the narrative a little like wading through mud as I had to puzzle over what exactly Luke was trying to say. Let me give you an example from the opening of the book.
I often wonder things. I often wonder things that, once upon a time, people would have been sent to asylums for thinking. Now people can think whatever they like, and the worst they’ll get is a cross look. That’s a good thing, though, for someone like me.
Now let me say this first—I’m dying. “We both are. You’ll understand someday.” At least that’s what I’ve been told. That’s why I suppose I’m wondering things now. I’m wondering things that, once upon a time, people would have been sent to asylums for thinking.
This opaque narrative continues in this style for most of the first part of the book and it made it very difficult for me to get into the story, or really get to the heart of Luke because all his words and thoughts were a distraction and it was taking too much effort on my part to get into the flow of the story. In fact, had I not been reviewing this book, I would have most likely stopped reading before I got to page 50.
Fortunately, about half way through the book, the narrative settled down a little. This is partly because we are put into the head of Luke’s brother Selim from time to time, and also because Luke seems to stop overthinking everything. This meant that the pace of the book sped up and I became more invested in the characters. By the end of the story I even liked Luke, although my favourite part was the secondary plot between Selim and his friend Gary.
My feelings about Luke’s relationship with Rowan were at first hampered by the narrative style but later I began to sympathise with both Luke and Rowan. Rowan is broken by his past and this comes across quite strongly in his reactions to being touched. This part was sympathetically handled. Luke makes a number of mistakes in trying to push Rowan too much but always learns from his mistakes and tries to make amends. One thing that puzzled me was the way that Rowan manipulates Luke and blows hot and cold. One minute he hates being touched, the next he’s encouraging Luke to have sex, or teasing Luke knowing that he won’t stand being touched. Then once Luke touches him or they have sex, he practically accuses Luke of raping him, saying he never wanted the sex when in fact at the time he had welcomed it. Some of his reactions are tied up in Rowan’s feel of losing control, but because everything in their relationship is filtered through Luke’s first person narrative, it was difficult to really grasp why Rowan acts like he does.
So in the end, I had mixed feelings about this book. The theme of recovery from partner abuse is shown well and I had a lot of sympathy for Rowan, at least at the start of the book. As I said earlier, I liked the sub-plot with Selim, and with Luke’s fears about coming out to his brother. The character of Luke is well drawn and we find out a lot about him and his feelings for Rowan. However, these good parts are balanced by a sometime confusing narrative and the difficulties of understanding why Rowan behaves in such contradictory ways. If you are interested in books which deal with difficult themes in a sensitive way, then you may well enjoy this book if you can get past the narrative style.