Book #43: Something Like Summer (2011)

sms-coverauthor: Jay Bell
reader: Kevin R. Free
language: English and a tiny bit of Spanish
length: 576 minutes
finished listening on: 31 October 2013

I forgot to use my Audible subscription until mid-October when I had built up a couple of book credits, and I picked this book out of the Gay & Lesbian section. I wasn’t completely convinced by the synopsis – it begins with a romance between a gay guy and a closeted jock at high school, a plot that has been played out many times in gay movies and that I think is unrealistic and wish fulfilment at best – but it seemed to get good reviews, so I went for it.

In the end, I wasn’t disappointed. I set out on my bike to the park to get exercise, and couldn’t stop listening to the audiobook, even when I was browsing Don Quixote for a Hallowe’en costume. The first part of the story is indeed exactly what I’d expected plotwise, but in the second half, the story takes a very different turn, as the two guys lose touch and go to college, before meeting again when the time isn’t right, causing drama. But the first half still hooked me – if the overarching plot left something to be desired, the characters, occasional humour, the plot twists I wasn’t quite expecting, and the minutiae made it worth it. It is a coming-of-age story, but as the first lines of the book note, it’s not a coming-out story (at least not for the main character), the two so often confused in gay media and the latter so hopelessly overdone that I’d just be bored if I had to listen to that. The author also knows how to tug at the heartstrings, making it an emotional journey at times.

The main character is Ben, who is brave and outspoken but also reckless. He makes many mistakes over the course of the book, but because the story stays with him throughout the book, I could see his character evolving – I feel in much greater detail than I’ve seen in other novels in the past. I also cared a lot about what happened to him during the story after only a short amount of time.

The other guy is Tim, who is a closeted jock in the first half of the book, but shy and concerned about his image. In the second half of the book, he comes out of the closet and starts chasing Ben quite aggressively even though Ben is now dating someone else. Basically a lot of his actions come across as dickish, especially when he breaks off their relationship (yup, predicted that coming a mile off…), and at times it’s unclear why Ben is so head-over-heels for him, although at the same time it’s clear enough underneath the thick exterior that he loves Ben quite strongly.

The other characters are Allison, Ben’s best friend, who has her own subplots and acts as a kind of grounding force a lot of the time, and Jace, Ben’s partner in adult life, who doesn’t seem to have any negative qualities about him at all, so I found him the obvious choice between the two potential lovers but almost unrealistic in the way he seems to take things in his stride most of the time. The fact that there were only about four main characters meant that the story was much more focused on those characters rather than introducing too many others, and helped build up those characters to a far more believable level.

I was also very happy with this book because although they seem to have more exciting lives than me (for instance, as I mentioned with indignance in a recent review, I never had any extravagant love affairs at high school) I can see some of my life in the life of the characters. Perhaps this is the effect of such a paucity of decent gay literature out there, but I liked it when the characters entered their twenties and went to college, because I feel more affinity with those years of my own life.

The story spans over a decade, and one thing I’d have liked to see a bit more would be more acknowledgement of real-life changes during the period discussed, which would have helped ground it more in reality. Jace is a flight attendant, so some mention of September 11 would have been relevant and interesting. The story is mainly set in Texas, so some mention of the supreme court repeal of Texas’s sodomy laws would have been nice to hear about. Instead, apart from almost being caught by the police sucking each other off, the characters never find their sexuality challenged by the outside world, more like what one is beginning to find in the modern age. They even get married, and there’s no mention that it’s not actually legally binding. Who am I kidding though… that’s pretty good. Not having the story be about gay issues or coming out or other anxieties about being gay is a breath of fresh air compared to all the movies I’ve seen over the years where those issues are front and centre, although they are present, especially in Tim’s character.

I liked it overall, very much, but I had quite a big issue with the ending. The author seems to write himself into a corner, with Ben potentially having to choose between the perfect guy and the high school sweetheart, both of which choices would be heart-breaking for him and the readers, and the eventual option he chooses is to kill one of them off (with an aneurysm), which is even more heart-breaking and rather sudden and unprecedented (unless I missed some kind of very subtle foreshadowing early on). I actually felt cheated and angry at that ending, because its purpose narratively is very clear to me.

It’s not a perfect story, but it fulfills a lot of what I’ve been looking for in a gay romance themed novel. There are plenty of other things I’d like to say about it, but this will do for now. Jay Bell is a skilled author, and I’m now looking forward to reading his other books – he’s already written two more stories in the series, which instead of sequels are the same overall story told from the opposite perspectives of Tim and Jace. They are also planning a movie (out next year I believe/hope), apparently because the book was so successful with fans – also the reason this audiobook was even released. That gives me something more to look forward to.

My final thought is, it’s kinda weird walking down the street listening to this and hearing a sex scene starting. They’re quite explicit, and although I know no-one else can hear it, I still felt embarrassed! I guess those are the risks you have to take!


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