I was intrigued by the description of this book:
When soccer star Chris Fischer moves next door to an openly gay classmate, he doesn't realize the wall between their rooms will be so thin he'll hear his neighbor's every move. But soon he and Peter become friends, and Chris is intrigued—imagining what happens on the other side of the wall.
Active on the Queer Student Council, Peter Cohen wishes he wasn't so damn hot for his straight neighbor. He can't tell if Chris is flirting or in denial or what, but Chris's innocent overtures lure Peter into flirtation that throws his world into chaos. Peter doesn't want to date a closet case, but he desperately, passionately wants Chris.
Soon Chris must choose whether to run away from his new feelings or embrace a relationship with the guy he loves. And Peter must decide if he can give his heart to a guy who hasn't yet figured it all out.
However, that summary contains things that don't appear in the book. For example, Peter isn't on the Queer Student Council in any scenes in the book, though the narration mentions it in passing, nor does he seem to occupy any leadership positions during the course of the story. Chris's “innocent overtures” are not innocent or clueless, either, in my opinion.
Chris is a college soccer player who takes a single room with a very, very thin wall between his and the single room next door, where a student named Peter lives. Peter and Chris once shared a tent at a new student camping trip, and in his sleep, Chris ended up snuggled very close to Peter, who is gay and out and was amused though a bit baffled at waking up in such a fashion. When Chris realizes he's moved in next door to Peter, someone he's tried not to think about for a few months now, Chris has to face his attraction to Peter, and what it means.
As I said, I was really curious about the story, the idea of someone having to face coming out and dealing with it on a college campus- and as a member of a sports team, and the semi-privacy of the single dorm room with a wall so thin they can whisper and hear one another (How did no one complain about that wall before?).
The characters and the descriptions veer in an out-of-control fashion from cliched banality to over-the-top uber-passion, and I had a hard time accepting either extreme. Regardless of whether Chris was referring to Peter in his internal thinking as “the other guy” or talking about the clothes dryer, I was confused:
Chris stood abruptly, wanting to move around and distract himself as he always did when he thought about that thing. It was nothing, really. He'd just had a perfectly natural reaction to being in close quarters with the other guy. Hell, Chris still sometimes got hard from the hum of the clothes dryer – it didn't mean he was gay.
I honestly have no idea why Chris would whip a stiff one over the clothes dryer hum. Either I missed a reference to hot laundry earlier in the book, or the quote was supposed to make more sense to me than it did for some reason. Either way, my understanding of Chris is that he's frustrated by his inability to control his attraction to Peter, and he might possibly have a laundry fetish – and he refers to Peter as “the other guy” a lot. Repeatedly.
There was also a lack of other characters in the story that were as dimensional as Chris and Peter, and given that the two of them weren't that well-developed to begin with, it was like they went to a college where all the other students were thinner than cardboard. They were like FatHead wall graphics: peel and stick for character interaction. They showed up to move the story forward, but weren't always individuals in their own right.
There were also descriptions meant to create empathy that didn't seem true given the actual conversations these characters had with one another. I would be told something but saw no evidence of it in the character's conversations. For example, at one point, despite not seeing Peter for quite awhile after that night in the tent, Chris thinks to himself:
“It was weird, but Chris had sort of missed the other guy. Not like he and Peter had been close other than that one evening around the campfire, and the night that followed. But there weren't too many people in Chris's life who didn't want him to do or be something.”
What people?! There weren't that many people in Chris's life (or Peter's) in the story telling Chris what to do. There weren't that many people in the story, period. Who was telling Chris what to do? And there weren't any scenes otherwise that indicated Chris had rather unrealistic feelings of loss after a night in a tent with someone he doesn't speak to again. Missed him WHY? Did they have some deep heartfelt conversation in that tent? Was there something that happened besides spooning in their sleep that I missed? I kept backing up to re-read pages because I was convinced I missed something, but I suspect what might have been missing was realistic emotional continuity.
The switching between mundane and outlandish continued through each chapter. If Peter or Chris thought about how aroused they were, the prose so often trod confidently into Land of the Ridiculous that I had to stop reading and re-read again to make sure I hadn't misread. The descriptions were also often bizarre:
“That, and his body was reaching to the conversation, his dick plumping in his jeans.”
Plumping? My mental image: Ballpark Franks.
[Peter] “turned on the music queued up in his stereo and skinned off his clothes.”
Chris is also described in terms that bothered the hell out of me. Twice in the opening chapters, Chris, who is blonde and blue-eyed, is described as having “all-American” good looks. First, I don't know how that phrase could get more tiresome, to say nothing of the fact that it's meaningless and somewhat offensive. I'm not blonde, nor am I a male soccer player. Does that make me less representative of what “America” looks like?
And here's Peter, describing himself: “Peter, on the other hand, looked like every tall, skinny, Jewish queer on campus.”
0_o What does that even MEAN? What do tall skinny Jewish queers look like? Do they have peyos? A yarmukle? Glasses? Large noses? That description didn't tell me anything more than “all-American” did.
I didn't care about the characters mostly because I felt like I was beat over the head with descriptions of arousal, of what the characters were thinking, or what they thought of each other. For example, in one scene, Peter imitates Chris's Southern accent, and Chris narrates:
“It was funny as hell how Peter did those stupid imitations. Some of them were dead-on, but others were just dorky.”
My thought: if the characters have to tell me that it's funny, it's probably not.
I'd started reading this book because I was curious about the emotional development of the characters, but that was not the emphasis of the prose. The prose told me about everything but their emotions, and what I was told didn't match what was happening when the characters spoke to one another.
I had to stop reading when I came upon this description:
Every few seconds he'd notice the sexy flash of Peter's eyes or the way Peter carried himself like he could fuck a corn dog through a keyhole.
WHAT THE HELL DOES THAT EVEN MEAN? Is that a typo? Is he supposed to suck the corn dog through the keyhole? Why would one wish to in any way enter a keyhole with a corndog?
I even Googled it, and found “so buck toothed he could eat corn-on-the-cob through a key hole” but I am no closer to understanding what type of sexual confidence Peter is meant to be displaying. (There is also a whopper of a typo when, as Peter is rimming Chris, “the way Chris twisted and moaned was too good, too wonton.”)
At that point, I wanted to stop reading the book altogether, but the emotional content I was looking for was just past the corn dog.
That's not a euphemism.
Chris realizes that he's very attracted to Peter, and having had some intense sexual interactions with them, he struggles with realizing that he might be gay – I wonder that there's no exploring of the question that he might be bisexual, given that it seemed from the narration from Chris' perspective that he'd never been very attracted to another man before meeting Peter.
The emotional nuances of the characters were muddled and difficult to decipher because the reliance on bizarre or cliche description, and there isn't much depth to any of the characters, not even the ancillary ones. The main characters are confused and confident in alternating roles. The gay best friend is a typically flamboyant gay best friend with moments of not-well-hidden seriousness to underscore the flamboyance and render his character straight out of stock casting. The homophobic soccer player is a homophobic soccer player, with teammates who play minor roles in Chris' coming out process instead of being actual people.
There were moments that were touching, such as when Peter and Chris have a quiet conversation through their shared wall (that must have been made of paper) and Peter is nearly holding his breath over whether Chris will continue talking to him. Later, Peter's flamboyant – except with the plot calls for seriousness – gay best friend Nathaniel tells Peter about Tom, a person he'd fallen for in high school, and why Tom's deciding to come out when he did may have been a huge mistake that derailed his life. If more of the story had been made of those quiet moments that explored and explained the perils and strengths of deciding to be who you are – or deciding to hide awhile longer – I would have had a better understanding of the emotions of both Peter and Chris. Chris moved into a single room because he wanted to get away from the soccer team because he was grieving for his mother, who died shortly before the story begins, but once Chris and Peter start moving toward one another, Chris' grief isn't mentioned again. It's a convenient reason for him to move from one dorm to another, but it's not enough to possibly confuse the reasons for his attraction to Peter? The grief that had caused him to move to another room just disappeared.
I liked that the story was trying to be a sweet and emotional romance between two men who were still figuring out their sexuality. I liked that Chris struggled with his instinct to hide who he was with, and hide what it meant from other guys on his soccer team, because he knew that trying to hide himself and his relationship would hurt Peter's feelings, even if Peter understood the feelings Chris was having. It is a big deal to both of them that Chris has to face the larger implications of being with Peter and deal with the emotional and social fallout of who he's kissing.
But most of their interactions are short when they're in public, and sexual when they're not. By the time they acknowledge that they're drawn to one another, most of the focus is on their sexual interaction, and not the emotional development of their relationship alongside the sexual.
Spoiler (highlight to read):There is also a we-can-forgo-condoms-because-we-love-each-other-and-haven't-done-the-anal-thing-with-anyone-else scene, as well as a very quick jump to love and commitment that didn't seem plausible, given the number of pages and scenes that separated Chris' outright terror at being outed and Chris' declarations of love. Between that and the corndog, I had lost my ability to believe in the story or the characters.
The moments of clarity, introspection, and sensitivity were overshadowed by the plumping corndogs of bizarre description, and left me feeling very dissatisfied and irritated. I wanted to like it, but the unevenness of the prose and of the descriptions, the huge jumps in emotional progress in the protagonists' relationship, and the lack of consistent emotional development were too much for me.
This book is available only from BookStrand.com.