A Guest Review by J.K. Hogan
Review Summary: A heart-wrenching, gut-busting, rollercoaster ride of a book, of which I loved every minute.
Tucker Gray is a Baltimore, MD waiter, hailing from the deep south, whose mental health issues and past relationships have made it hard to trust more than the cut. After he hits what he thought was rock bottom Tucker decides to keep close to the ones who stood by him and keep his head down, until he finds something to prove it can get better.
Jesse Bauer is unsure what his future holds after an injury forces him to retire from the marines. With all of the decisions he has to make in his civilian life with all of its freedoms and possibilities, he feels staying closeted and keeping the people in his life happy will keep down the chaos.
Until the night he met Tucker Gray at a party he thought that’d be possible, but both of them are instantly and strongly in lust. As their relationship grows Jesse has to prove himself and Tucker has to learn to trust more than the cut.
I’m kind of at a loss for words as to how to describe this book for you, but I’m going to give it a shot because, you know, it’s what I’m here for. Don’t Trust the Cut literally felt like riding a rollercoaster. You know the ones that start with the long climb to the really big hill that makes your stomach jump in your throat when you go down? Then you can kind of relax a little and have fun while you go over all the smaller hills and switchbacks. This book was kind of like that, except in the second half, there was another hill that was twice as big as the first one, only you didn’t see it coming. Even the title gives me the shivers now that I know what it means.
I can’t stress enough that you should give this book a try. That said, you’re going need some comfort afterwards. Curl up with your favorite blanket, light some candles, pet your dog, because this book tackles some Heavy issues. I don’t even really want to call it angst. It’s more like damage. If you ever read Chase in Shadow by Amy Lane—those kinds of issues. I’m pretty sure I even liked this one better, though I adore Ms. Lane.
Don’t Trust the Cut is a love story between two men who are mostly broken, and are nowhere near being ready for a relationship—even though one of them already is…sort of. Let me explain: the two main characters are Jesse, a Marine who was injured Iraq and forced into an early retirement; and Tucker, a shy guy who is returning from a “vacation” in “Canada.” Can you see the air quotes? Because I’m making them. The two guys meet at a welcome home party their mutual friends throw for them.
Jesse is actually in a relationship with a woman, Miranda, and has been for six years. Supposedly they got into it so that Miranda’s parents would get off her back, and so Jesse could hide from ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ I understood Jesse’s reasoning behind this relationship, but we never quite learn enough about Miranda’s background to understand why she she stuck with such an arrangement for six years. When the story picks up, Miranda begins to try and stake her claim on Jesse and get him to marry her. However, when Jesse meets Tucker, they have an instant chemistry that he can’t deny. They share a secret kiss at the party, after which Tucker freaks out for a reason unbeknownst to Jesse, and runs away.
A year later, they meet again in a chance encounter, and Jesse asks Tucker to hang out ‘as friends.’ Over time, they get closer as friends, but neither could deny their growing attraction. Yet Jesse still stubbornly stays with Miranda. The thing I did like about this dynamic, though, was that while Jesse was deep in the closet, he never lied to himself or tried to convince Tucker that he was straight. Even though he was living a lie, he still admitted to himself that he had always been gay.
When he can no longer deny having something with Tucker, Jesse breaks up with Miranda, although he allows her to continue saying they are together. It seems amicable enough, but we find out later that it’s not so much on Miranda’s part.
While I didn’t care for Miranda—and I really don’t think I was meant to—this book had wonderful characterization. I especially loved Tucker’s best friend Alison. A lot of m/m romances have the token straight female roommate/bestie, who rarely adds to the story and leans toward the stereotypical. But Alison was too fricking hilarious to ignore.
“And why do we have to keep feeding you, Marmaduke? It’s expensive, taking care of such a big dog.” [Alison talking about Jesse]
Jesse and Tucker both struggle with the relationship for different reasons. Jesse isn’t ready to come out because he worries about his mother’s opinion—she basically says she’d rather him be a cheating bastard than gay—and the opinions of his friends from the Marines. He feels that he had to step in as the head of the family when his father left, and that he had a duty to get married and have a family. He still feels the need to do these things, but he wants to do right by Tucker.
Tucker has his own very serious issues that shaped the person he is at the start of the story. He’s too terrified and ashamed to tell Jesse, and that insecurity is part of what is wrong in the first place. Jesse finds out by accident and, let’s just say all hell breaks loose. Jesse can’t help but be angry that Tucker withheld the truth, especially after Jesse was forced to come out to his mother and his friends. Tucker and Jesse separate for a time, each trying to do what’s best for the other one and both missing the mark. Mainly, Tucker is his own worst enemy. All I’ll say is that he has a mental illness. If you want to know more about what is actually wrong with Tucker, click on the spoiler cut.[spoiler] Tucker is a self-mutilator and diagnosed bipolar. He was hospitalized twice for cutting and attempted suicide. He was also in an abusive relationship. We don’t learn much at all about Tucker’s past other than that, because the story focuses on the dynamic between him and Jesse. However, Tucker alludes to the fact that the abusive relationship came after the cutting, as he felt that his scars made him disgusting, and that in turn made his boyfriend beat him.
We are never really given any specific incident that caused cutting, other than the bipolar disorder in general. While I am not bipolar, I do have other issues that made Tucker’s problems really resonate with me. He’s falling in love with Jesse but his feelings of inadequacy are not about Jesse, or anyone else but Tucker.
Something finally happens to push Tucker over the edge (I’m not even going to tell you about it in the spoiler), and he cuts too much. He ends up in the hospital again. It took him weeks of surgery and therapy to recover. During which Jesse is allowed to see him but not talk about anything that happened between them.
I don’t know how—and I don’t really wanna—but Mr. Boehme does a stellar job getting into the head of a clinically depressed person. I know, been there, done that. You just really have to read it to see, if you can handle it![/spoiler]
I was glad that Jesse and Tucker did not just jump back in their relationship after all of the misunderstandings were cleared up. They had a lot of work to do together to get them both right with themselves.
I have to say, I love Kade Boehme’s voice in this book. As I said before, this is the first one of his I’ve read, so I can’t speak to consistency, but I will definitely be coming back for more. His prose is almost poetic, but not in such a way that pulls you out of the narrative. I think I have more notes and highlights in this book than any other one I’ve read since I’ve been using an eReader. There were just so many quotes that I wanted to save. And good lord the love scenes were hot, but romantic as well. Each one advanced the plot, which is a mark of a good romance. There was every element I love in a good sex scene—not that I’m going to tell you what those are. It was perfect to balance all of the heavy stuff the characters had to deal with.
Admittedly, I thought the beginning of this book started off a little slow at the beginning, until I began to understand that that was the nature of Tucker and Jesse’s relationship. But it built up steam and just kept on pounding, until finally the reader gets her reward for going through all the pain along with these men. The HEA was amazing and perfect, and it was beyond worth it. This is one that will stick with me for a long, long time.