I found this book a few weeks ago when I noticed that it was one of the top reviewed titles at All Romance, and I wondered what the reviewers liked about it. Most of the comments focused on the unique emotional journey of the protagonists, and boy howdy, were they right.
Jonathan Kechter is a workaholic living a rather lonely life after a bad breakup. When he is set up on a blind date with Cole Fenton, it’s a total mess: Jonanthan’s cell phone won’t stop ringing – and of course all of the calls are ones he “has to take.” Cole is flamboyant, very confident and, in a word, holy flaming flamypants. Seriously. Cole seems to take deliberate steps to make sure that everyone in the entire tri-state area is fully aware of his Gayness, which he demonstrates at every moment. I wouldn’t be surprised if Cole’s pants were marked at the seam with patented GayFlaming technology, which comes equipped with special *Fabulous!* peach-colored ascot for repairs and polishing.
Meanwhile, Jonathan, if he were clothing, he’d be a regular, plain, somewhat boring suit: he isn’t in the closet but he’s also not comfortable with Cole’s public persona. He aims to fit in and move on with his life, not stand out and announce to everyone, particularly at work, that he is gay. Cole, on the other hand, he wants everyone to know he is not just gay, but he is Teh Gay.
Surprisingly to them both, I think, they like each other, and after the horrible first date, they connect again and start a casual relationship based mostly on sex and food when they are both in the same place. Jonathan travels relentlessly for his job, and Cole can’t stay in the same place for more than a few months without getting restless.
What I admired most about this book is how the author took really negative traits – Jonathan’s inability to disconnect or set limits for his job, Cole’s inability to stay in one place – and uses them to both set an obstacle for the character to overcome AND to reveal something positive about them. For example, Jonathan can’t separate from his cell phone. His boss calls him at all hours, and intrudes on his life at really awful moments, and Jonathan never says no.
Yet while this isn’t mentioned in the narrative, consider the loyalty that Jonathan displays. Basically, with no one else in his life, his job is his spouse. It demonstrates how much loyalty Jon has to give to someone who captures his attention, feeds his ambition and drive, and satisfies his work ethic.
The work ethic is one of the major problems Jonathan has with Cole, in addition to the flaming flamboyant flamypants: Cole is independently wealthy and doesn’t do anything, from Jon’s initial perspective, anyway. But Cole also is a wonderful cook who finds a great deal of happiness and joy in preparing meals for Jonathan – and later for Jonathan and his father, who is slowly (VERY slowly) growing comfortable with his son’s sexuality. There is one scene involving old recipes that literally made me weepy.
Sexton’s achievement in this book is in two elements. First, she takes on a challenging and tricky conflict: the degree to which Cole is publicly and stereotypically demonstrative of his own sexuality and how he chooses to communicate it – and how that makes Jonathan feel. As the two men progress from casual-friends-with-benefits to a more potentially serious relationship, Cole’s public and private personas, and Jonathan’s increasing understanding of Cole’s life, reveal more about both men, making simple issues much more complex.
But how different was that for me as a reader: their initial problems center on outward and stereotypical expressions of sexuality, and how and why the characters act in response to those stereotypes.
Which leads me to the other aspect of this story that I appreciated so much: the layering of the characters, and how no moment or statement or scene stood on its own. Everything related to an earlier or later moment, and the structure of the novel reflected those layers. The book opens with Jonathan on an airplane, then jumps back in time, then makes its way back to the moment of the opening scenes. The timeline and the slow revealing of the characters created moments that collectively unified the narrative into a complex yet simple story. I still think about it.
I wish that the ending were stronger – and it is SO hard to review a book and discuss what about the ending bothered me without giving that ending away, so you’ll have to accept vagueness and oblique references up in this paragraph. I’m sorry. I felt that the ending removed some of Jonathan’s independence, and somewhat undermined the determined work ethic and the balance of power between the two men- no matter what kind of lip service (ha) they paid to the situation. I wanted a more balanced and definite happy ending for them both. I also wish the lone female character had been more of a flesh-and-blood, layered and dynamic individual in her own right. The other men in this story, with the exception of Jonathan’s boss, were complicated and fascinating. The female character was a mix of stereotypes and plot device, and always a true character in the sense that the others were.
I don’t think Cole became a “real” character until about 1/3 to 1/2 through the book because the story is told from Jonathan’s point of view, with the exception of email messages from Cole to a person who doesn’t appear in the story which start each chapter. Once Cole was established, and Jonathan was struggling with his attraction and fascination and frustration for Cole, I was hooked. I’m still pondering this book, thinking about scenes and thinking about the conflict and how it developed into a story that was not so much about sex but about intimacy, and trust.