So far this year's statistical analysis on my read m/m romances throws up a rough average of one entertaining book to every ten dire ones. A 10% return might not be bad odds in today's economy, but goddamn it we're not talking about sugar cubes here. The sweat of my brow and the ulcer of supressed rage at coworkers everywhere paid for your liberally strewn adjectives, so let's agree that 10% is only about as acceptable as unscaled five day-old fish in white sauce.
The only qualifier to that, obviously, is if we're talking about the qualitative properties of that 10%. Luckily for my inner screech, this book is a fucking masterclass in characterisation and character development, and I put out for both those things. Don't think I'm easy or anything though (I am) just cos I'm giving ground here, because I'm not (I am).
The story basically revolves around two people trying to work through some very concrete events in their lives while simultaneously trying to establish their relationship. If that sounds a little dry, it's because it is. And by that I don't mean that it's lacking in any kind of emotional resonance, but that the events and trials the characters face are sequential and logical and there's no deviating into unrelated woobie.
Logan hits his wife and has to deal with the fallout. He's highly closeted, and is attracted to Nick and has to deal with that attraction. Nick has to face the hidden demons of his abused past because he's attracted to someone who's hit their partner. Everything in this story has an antecedent founded on something tangible and the author is brilliant at constructing all of this right from the start.
The characters echo this practical handling: they're solid and structured, with the kind of sensibility that you can rely on to take you all the way through the story. I think the author's particular genius here was knowing her characters intimately enough to let them interact with the story, as opposed to trying to overdevelop them and complicate things. It could have happened so easily: Logan's a terribly complex person, and abuse is often a terribly complex thing. Logan has children, and children react to abuse in terrifyingly complex ways.
There was so much potential here for the author to lose control and either diminish the impact of events, or magnify them beyond the bounds of credulity. She never does. She tackles them with measured pacing, is even-handed with the angst, and lets the characters take their joy where and when they can get it. It doesn't just round out the protagonists or the story, it lets you the reader relax into accepting this as an everyman story, because there but for the grace of god go us all, etc.
The other delight of this thing is that there aren't any hard resolutions to come out of the characters' facing their demons. All the confrontations in the story end up feeling slightly flat, a device that I have a special place in my heart for. It gives the story another shot of reality -- the affirming kind, the kind that doesn't measure your reality against a fantasy one and find yours wanting. Everyone makes compromises, one way or the other, and it gave me no small amount of joy to see how honestly the author dealt with her characters' demons: a sort of middle ground where everyone has their say and then gets on with life because that's what you do.
I truly loved this book. It was a slow build of gentle, intelligent joy. I believed every minute of it, and felt every minute of it. Best ten percent I ever spent my money on.