Description from Goodreds:
The only thing in Colin Mulligan’s life that makes sense is taking cars apart and putting them back together. In the auto shop where he works with his father and brothers, he tries to get through the day without having a panic attack or flying into a rage. Drinking helps. So do running and lifting weights until he can hardly stand. But none of it can change the fact that he’s gay, a secret he has kept from everyone.
Rafael Guerrera has found ways to live with the past he’s ashamed of. He’s dedicated his life to social justice work and to helping youth who, like him, had very little growing up. He has no time for love. Hell, he barely has time for himself. Somehow, everything about miserable, self-destructive Colin cries out to him. But down that path lie the troubles Rafe has worked so hard to leave behind. And as their relationship intensifies, Rafe and Colin are forced to dredge up secrets that both men would prefer stay buried.
I’m really torn about how to review this book. Because it’s good, well written and such, but it’s one of those books that makes me realize I might not be a very good person, at least not very forgiving. And I can’t say I enjoyed a lot of it.
Here’s the thing for me, Colin spent a decade and a half (if not more) actively seeking to destroy one person’s life. He was cruel at every single turn, unremittingly horrible and inspired others around him to be the same, such that his brother had no safe place and certainly no family support where it very likely could have existed otherwise. (If nothing else, he could have been a support and likely Brian would have followed and Sam didn’t seem to care enough to be hostile.) He made several people around him miserable. I’m honestly surprised they survived him and his rancor.
And yes, this book gave me his pitiful, self-hating history. I understood the horrible mental place he was in personally. I understood why he stayed in the closet, why he hated himself, why he was unhappy. I even academically understood why he lashed out against his brother the way he did. But none of that changed the fact that for 15+ years he made someone else’s life hell, purposefully targeted someone he deemed weaker than himself and beat him literally and figuratively. And no pat little, “I”m sorry, I want be happy now” made that go away for me.
As far as I was concerned, he didn’t deserve Daniel’s forgiveness, let alone his instant forgiveness and that poisoned his happily ever after as far as I’m concerned. No amount of “I was miserably too” makes the history between him and Daniel, and by extension Brian, ok in my mind.
It’s a purely emotional response. And it’s not even a fair one. Because I know in real life there are probably a lot of men out there in positions similar to Colin’s, living with an anchor-weights worth of internalized homophobia and trapped in family circumstances that make them feel like they have no options. And a lot of them are probably angry, or masking hurt with anger. And I’ll admit, Parrish wrote the perfect partner for Colin. I can’t imagine anyone else being able to look past what a frankly horrible person he was and see anything redeemable. Honestly, I don’t think I did, even given Rafe’s view of him.
And that’s the thing. As readers of this story, we’re supposed to see a kernel of something better in Colin. But sorry, you are your actions once you’ve spent 15 years solidifying your position at the expense of someone else, and I couldn’t find what was supposed to redeem Colin. I just couldn’t.
Might he be something better from the end of the book forward? Sure. But I simply can’t relate to the person who suffered forgiving and accepting him with open arms. Where exactly was his act of redemption? What did he do to deserve Daniel’s forgiveness? Nothing as far as I could see.
And I know someone shouldn’t have to earn forgiveness. That’s not the way it’s supposed to work; it has to be given. But I suppose that just makes Daniel a better person than me for being willing to offer himself up, but I felt no satisfaction in their reconnection.
I see where Parrish was going with this. What she was trying to accomplish and I know a lot of people really enjoyed it. But the end of the book found me just as angry, if not more angry for Daniel than when I finished the first book. And I know the book really does explore some important things, like the isolating effects of staying in the closet, the harm homophobic parents can do, the importance of peer support, the long-lasting and unfair effects of a prison stint, the damage we do each-other by not teaching people (men especially) communication skills, etc. I can appreciate these aspects of this difficult coming out story, but my emotional reaction to it is such that I found I couldn’t truly enjoy it.
On other matters, I liked that the characters were in their late thirties, though they often felt much younger to me. I liked that one of them was Latino. I couldn’t with all the media references though. I hate that a means to describe a characters. Can you imagine reading this book and trying to guess what the characters look like if you haven’t watched television in over 5 years and have only seen maybe 3 movies in that time? Frustrating! And what was up with the random breath-play?
All in all, I like Parrish’s writing. I have book 3 that I’ll be reading (well, listening to) and I’ll certainly pick up other books. But apparently I’m not a forgiving enough person for this one. I just feel indignant, righteously or otherwise. Sorry.