A Guest Review by Sammy
Review Summary: A beautifully crafted story of loss and need and the obstacles two men must overcome to gain that which they desire most, love.
Blurb: Adam Craig is burned out. Lead singer of the hard rock band Black Varen, he’s tired of the empty life of groupies, paparazzi, and hotel rooms. Worse, a life in the closet. After the final concert of their latest tour, he flees the after party, pursuing memories of lost summers and carefree days, until he passes out on the patio of a shuttered lake resort.
Miles Caldwell is a brilliant artist, tied by agoraphobia and social anxiety to his family’s lodge. Alone but for his parrot, he spends his days illuminating manuscripts and hiding from the complexities of life. When he discovers Adam asleep in a deck chair, he’s furious but intrigued. Adam soon charms his way into Miles’s bed, and they lose themselves in a summer idyll, safe from the compromises and claims of reality.
But Adam’s life, with all it demands, is waiting for him. And Miles, uncertain of Adam’s true feelings, is battling demons of his own. Somehow, the man who’s never home and the man who never leaves it must find the strength to fight for a future together.
Review: I grappled with the rating on this review for a few days. Had I stopped three quarters into this novel, Illumination, I would have given this book a definite five stars for I really had been swept into the lives of these two men, in particular, Miles. For me, there was a decided connection to these fellows and I found myself unable to put the story down for any length of time, needing to see where this relationship was going to travel.
Adam was trying to escape a life that never really fit. His time with the popular metal band, Varen, was only partially satisfying because his heart really hankered to be back in musical theatre. Plus as the band’s front guy, his sexuality had to remain hidden. Due to both the record label’s fear that sales would drop and the near rabid hatred of gays from one band mate specifically., Adam could appear bisexual but never come out totally as a gay man. So, he stuffed down the anxiety and sadness that plagued this lie he lived with recreational drugs and alcohol. On one particularly wild party night after the band’s last concert, Adam, drunk and high, grabs a taxi and ends up at a lakeside resort he visited as a boy.
Inside one of the resort cottages is Miles Caldwell, a man who lives a mere half life, haunted by fears that he cannot remember the cause of, and dealing with a loneliness that threatens to drown him at every turn. In his hermit like state, the few friends he has along with his sister take care of him, reminding him to eat, to not work for days straight and in an odd twist, which I am still grappling with a bit, occasionally satisfy his need for sex and human touch. When Adam enters his life and remains for several weeks, Miles becomes aware of how much he has lost, not only all the memories of his past when he was Michael Caldwell, son of the resorts’ owner, but also his freedom to move beyond the resort. In other words, his acute fears brought on by not just one violent and deadly past episode but two others that triggered relapses and subsequent seizures had left Miles unable to cope with leaving his home for more than a few seconds.
So here they were, two men slowly but steadily falling in love with each other, both tied to lives that threatened to destroy any chance they had at happiness with each other or alone. When Adam leaves to return to the studio to work on the new releases for the band, Miles is set adrift inside his own head, confused and angry, alone and lost. Meanwhile, Adam is increasingly more unhappy with the pretend romance he must have with his best friend Evie and longs to be with Miles full time. The real question remains can Miles get better enough through therapy to be the man Adam needs and will Adam’s nightly escape into drugs finally cause him to lose everything he desires.
Rowan Speedwell has an incredible ability to create characters that not only have real depth but that capture your interest, keep you hungering for more of them, more of their lives as they are played out in her fascinating stories. Miles and Adam are no exceptions. Two thirds of the book in, I was captured. I read voraciously, wanting–needing to know how these two men would ever be able to overcome the incredible obstacles that kept mounting before them. When the realization that they would have to spend considerable time apart in order for each of them to come to a place where they could be what each other needed, I was okay with the idea that the latter section of this book would focus one their life apart.
Up to this point, the only real problem I had with this book was the different way in which Miles’ two friends provided him with sexual release. His best friend Doug and his partner Rob were happily partnered, yet Rob, or Bobby as Miles called him, would occasionally serve as a strange type of rent boy with out the financial entanglements. With strict parameters about touching and kissing, Bobby was, in essence, a kindhearted “vessel” for Miles to use. The admittedly odd arrangement he has with the partner of his life long friend in which Miles uses Rob for gratification was the first element of the story that gave me pause, but it was decidedly the life these two men had while apart which was the focus of the last third of the book that gave me some trouble.
Up until their time without each other, I felt the author did an incredible job of shifting the focus of this story back and forth between the men. I never thought that I was getting to know one of them at the expense of the other remaining a more shallow and less panned out character. I was absolutely taken with both of these men and felt that I was a part of their lives, drawn in to their story. Then the needed and understandable separation came along and this is where the story really became almost exclusively about Adam and his spiraling downward cycle with drugs and alcohol.
After just an initial scene with the new therapist, I felt Miles and his story dropped off the page. Yes, he was still there but we never saw his growth–his path to coping more readily with his traumas. On the other hand we were fully immersed in Adam’s life and the hell he was enduring. Don’t get me wrong–this was very well written and believable. But the careful balance this author so painstakingly worked for earlier in the novel was gone and I was really sad to see it go.
The story shifted from being the Miles and Adam story to the Adam saga with Miles on the fringe and it was really disappointing to read. Also, I think that had there been more of an equal balance with us seeing the way Miles grappled in therapy, then the hard won steps he experiences at the end of the story would have been more believable. It was obvious that the author was doing her best to not just “fix” Miles but rather write in small victories for him along the way. I was so happy to see that Miles still had to wrestle with his phobias but that now he had more strength to deal with them. By choosing to focus the bulk of the remaining chapters on Adam, I felt the author lost a real chance to further explore Miles and the things which made him tick. Again, not a bad story–on the contrary, it was still a compelling read as it had been from the start but now it was lacking the fullness and depth it had so wonderfully began with and that left it less than enjoyable for me.
Still and all, I feel Illumination by Rowan Speedwell is not a novel to be missed. The delicate dance that these two men perform as they raced toward each other and the healing they need to achieve in order to remain together is a beautiful story line that had remarkable moments. That alone, makes this novel stand out from the pack and left a lasting impression on this reviewer.