Title: A White Coat Is My Closet
Author: Jake Wells
Cover Artist: Leah Kaye Suttle
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Buy Link: Amazon.com Genre: Contemporary/Romance
Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5
Review by Zac D
Wave’s rating: 4 stars
Review Summary: A slightly arduous read, but beneath some overdone prose lies a sound book, with a heartfelt message.
Blurb: A slightly arduous read, but beneath some overdone prose lies a sound book, with a heartfelt message.
Review: Okay. This book had two faces for me; one that bored the ass off me, and another that really touched me, and reminded me that not everyone can swagger through London with a pink Mohican and plant a smacker on their beloved’s cheek.
Let’s see if I can explain myself. I’ll start with the things I liked…
I believed and empathized with Zack’s chronic lack of self-esteem. And, I found myself reading between the lines and connecting with his struggle to come to terms with his sexuality. Because, underneath it all, I got the impression that he was a man who simply wanted to fit in. In some ways, he’d found that with his group of friends, but because of how the rest of his life panned out, he was in fact very lonely. And I felt like, on some level, he blamed himself for this. Like it was somehow his fault for being gay. Like he deserved to be lonely and alone. None of this was ever spelled out, but the author did a good job of suggestion, and provoking those emotions in me.
I also think this lack of self esteem contributed to Zack’s own subtle prejudices. In the earlier stages of the book Zack clearly had an aversion to overweight folk, and in RL I’ve often found that people who are insecure of their own standing in the world have subconsciously harsh views of others. A defense mechanism, whatever. I respect the author for writing that in, even if I found it a little distasteful. Book characters are not perfect any more than the rest of us, and like us, they often have a lot to learn. Young men say and think stupid things. They do not always instinctively ‘know’ the right path, any more than the rest of us.
Zack’s profession was a good trope too. Who wouldn’t like a young, hot, pediatrician? At times it was over described and weighed down by superfluous medical information, though. I think when writing characters from a specialized profession such as doctors, lawyers, architects and the like, authors have to be careful to concentrate on what really matters: the emotion. For example, don’t tell the reader what a plastic tube does, what it’s called and the scientific benefits of the procedure used to apply it to a patient. Instead, tell me how your character feels when he performs the procedure. Nervous? Scared? Confident? Is his blood rushing in his ears? His heart beating a touch too fast? Can he smell the patient’s blood? Feel the cool sweat of fear on them?
As a reader, this is far more important than the technicalities. Yes, we need a few specifics to convince us you know what you’re talking about, but be sparing…be mean. Add dabs of color. Not a whitewash.
Staying on this subject, the narrative style of this book is a little laborious. Dialogue. Sentence construction. Plot. Everything.
A case-in-point, taken from when Zack goes out to dinner with his friend, Declan:
‘When we entered, we were greeted warmly by the hostess. She was an exotic-looking Thai woman with striking features. High cheek bones accentuated almond skin, dark eyes and a beautiful smile that was welcoming though not flirtatious. She was petite, but shapely and her tight dress flattered the curves of what appeared to be an athletic and toned body.’
The woman sat them at the table, nothing more, and she got a further whole page of attention, and it was instances like these that made this book a hundred pages longer than it needed to be. I enjoyed Zack’s friendship with Declan, but their encounters were overdone. The dialogue too long. As two young men, I expected their exchanges to be sharper. Snappier. But in fact, they tended to be rather poetic and grandiose. More like elderly men playing billiards.
Okay. Enough of the griping. Beneath the overwriting, there is a lot to like about this book. Zack is a sensitive soul, and his personality traits are written well. Some are obvious, and others less so, requiring the reader to think and build a picture of a lonely young man, married to his career with little else of substance in his life.
The title of the book perfectly matched the ongoing struggle of the main character. The sense that Zack truly did hide behind his job was palpable throughout, and the parallels drawn when he ran into a former patient’s father in the outside world. Zack finds himself the victim of the man’s homophobic hate before he recognizes him as the doctor who’d saved his baby’s life, and this is one of the highlight moments of the book for me. It was heartbreaking and rage-inducing, and, sadly, entirely believable.
The romance element of the book was sweet, though it took a little while to grab me. Sergio is sweet and warm. I found the Italian Stallion trope a little cliché, but what’s wrong with that? Clichés are such because people like them. I won’t spoil the arc between the two MC’s, but I enjoyed this element immensely. It was emotive and resonant, and cut through some of the heavy prose.
Overall, AWIMC is a good attempt at a difficult subject. Those that have been in the shoes of the MC Zack will connect with it, and perhaps those that haven’t will glean some understanding of how imprisoning being different actually is.
A good try and an author to watch. A scraping of 3.75 stars, but be warned: next time, cut the bloated prose!
You may wonder why I have written another review of this book in addition to Zac’s, (which is excellent BTW as he knows much more of Zack’s fictional world than I ever could), and the reason is that I viewed the book from a different perspective. Zac and I exchanged several emails about this story and discussed what we liked and/or disliked about it. Although our opinions converged in some areas they differed in others so I asked him if I could piggyback my review on his. This is only the second time I have done this and I want to stress that this is not a duelling review, it is simply my perspective of A White Coat is my Closet, why it impacted me so much, and what I thought could have been done to improve the final product.
I thought that the author did a great job with his characters, and rather than analyze every aspect of the book as I usually do, I’m going to concentrate on them, and in particular on Zack who narrates the story through his 1st person POV.
I went through a whole series of emotions while reading this story – I cried, I laughed, I was furious, but most of all I fell in love with Zack. When a story has such an impact on me despite its flaws, which are considerable, I re-read it to figure out why and the answer here is simply Zack. With the number of gay romances that I have read over the past 10 years I have become pretty jaded and blasé, as a lot of them are formulaic and, dare I say, boring, but that’s one criticism I can’t say about White Coat although I do have criticisms about the book which I’ll come to later
Zack affected me emotionally, something that’s difficult for many characters to do. He was very flawed, and I love imperfect characters. He was extremely insecure in his personal life because of his sexual orientation; in fact he regarded himself as defective, which I thought was quite harsh. However this started with his parents who made him feel there was something wrong with him, which in turn generated feelings of inadequacy because he fell short of their expectations of him, as he was always being compared negatively to his brothers. As an adult he never felt like a “real” man and spent his life in the closet except when he was with his gay buddies. Conversely, as a Senior Pediatric Resident in the hospital where he worked he was the complete professional – competent, knowledgeable, skillful, and deserving of the esteem of his colleagues. One of his major issues was the environment where he worked that was ultra homophobic, perpetrated by an arrogant and condescending senior surgeon, and his attitude was pervasive which didn’t help Zack’s feelings of inadequacy and pushed him even further in the closet. Thus he never allowed his professional and personal lives to converge or overlap, and consequently he had a pretty lonely existence. With this background it was no wonder that Zack was such a conflicted and complex character – a split personality – insecure in his personal life, fearful of being outed, yet confident in his professional persona.
I also really liked Zack’s boyfriend Sergio who was out and proud and had a difficult time living in Zack’s closet, but he did so because he loved him, although at times he was frustrated and this caused a lot of friction in their relationship. I wish Sergio was on page more so that I could have known him better because I thought he would have been a much bigger foil for Zack who at times took himself way too seriously. Two other characters who stood out: Declan, his best friend and his closest confidante who pumped him up and built up his self confidence, but even he didn’t know much of Zack’s background or his friends, other than the guys they hung out with every week when they went bar hopping. Zack was so secretive and afraid to confide in even his closest friends that it coloured his life and at times made him live almost like a hermit before he met Sergio. The other character who impressed me was Zack’s good friend and colleague Diane who was disappointed when he eventually came out to her when he was unintentionally exposed by Sergio. She was hurt and disappointed that he didn’t trust her with his secret even though she had confided in him. She told him:
“…. at the end of the day, the testimony of a person’s character is their integrity and their capacity to love. Who they love really says nothing about who they are. Everyone who knows you respects you for being the person you are. Being gay doesn’t change anything about what’s fundamentally important.”
Now for my major criticism. A book is a cooperative endeavour and partnership between an author and his or her editor, and one area that really bothers me when reviewing is the editing or lack thereof. I need to know that the author is familiar with the background or world he has created and has done the research, but in A White Coat is My Closet there is an incredible amount of detailed medical information and jargon (info dumps that went on for pages and pages), most of which were unnecessary and irrelevant and didn’t contribute to the story in a material way in the context of a romance. An editor is supposed to provide advice and guidance to the author on the basic principles of writing fiction and what the finished product should look like, but it seems that the editor was either totally absent here or she/he let the author down by not giving him the appropriate professional advice and guidance, which could have made his book so much better.
To summarize: I fell in love with Zack and liked most of the other characters and I think Jake Wells has a wonderful future as a romance writer, provided he receives the professional editing assistance every author needs, especially newbies. An editor could have helped the author reduce this book by at least 50 pages, if not more, by the deletion of unnecessary technical information, in order to enhance the reading experience. I look forward to new books by Jake Wells who did something that no author has don e recently, he made me cry. The book had a message which was delivered in a way that touched my heart and I commend the author for making me understand some things I never did before.
My rating would have been much higher except for the editing or lack thereof. As always this is only one person’s opinion and YMMV.
Rating: 4 stars