Last week I described the evolution of my library: how I began in contemporary romance and moved into more lengthy and “non-traditional” romances. I recently decided to try reading novels from the male/male genre and see how I enjoyed it.
What I discovered was a high number of female writers. I also found that there of the readership, there seemed to be a demand from heterosexual females readers. I suppose the obvious reason would be “more penises!” But I am not sure how accurate these “two Alpha hot males” are, any more realistic than that all gay guys are like Jack from Will and Grace.
My quest began with reading the Goodreads lists for “Gay for you”, subgenera. These books are basically the story of a “straight” male falling in love with a gay male. I have read quite a bit of them as I worked through the list, and found some of them worthwhile and others that just seem like glorified sex scenes. It seemed clear to me some female writers do not understand what it is to be a gay male because characters seem very stereotypical. So my quest became simple: can I find a female author who seemed to accurately portray a male/male relationship?
Rafe Bridges is a private eye who is asked by a cop (Jeremy Halliday) to look into the disappearance of a childhood friend’s sister. Rafe finds he is attracted to Jeremy, who is clearly straight. As the investigation unfolds, it becomes harder to fight the attraction and Jeremy discovers his own fascination to Rafe. Can they both move past their personal history and fears to give this love a chance?
The book Private Eyes, by S.E. Culpepper, tops my list of male/male romance novels. I also loved the second book of the series, Question Mark, which picks up with Mark (Rafe’s previous boyfriend). I have chatted with the author on Goodreads, and asked her about how she so seemingly (as I am only a female) accurately portrayed a gay relationship. Her response was very funny and sweet: by talking to gay friends on their relationships, watching a lot of European and South American soap operas, and quizzing her husband on the male physiology1.
My next book review will be Hot Head, by Damon Suede, who is an “out-n-proud”2 male and I will be interested in comparing the two novels and see if I can identify any major differences.
Jeremy has had relationships with women before, but he has never been fully satisfied. This seems to be the way the “gay for you” type of romances begins: a straight man who is divorced, widowed, or just had a bunch of troubled relationships. They are usually almost asexual in nature; thinking that it must be that he is not interested in sex. A quote from Jeremy on this:
“…I realized that so many women in the past I’ve dated for the sake of dating, not because I was interested in them. I found them attractive in a casual sort of way; nobody has ever stood out to me.”
From the beginning Jeremy is hyperaware of Rafe. It moves from a friendship approach to a sexual attraction. Jeremy just cannot identify it as sexual:
He was one of those guys good looking in a way that it was impossible not to notice – for guys and girls alike. And Bridges probably knew it, too, sauntering around with slick looking sunglasses and the fit guy appeal, making women drool.
The best scene of Jeremy for me was with his sister Tracy, as he breaks down because of his sexual confusion. It was such a beautiful and emotional scene; because of the support and the acceptance that Tracy gives him. With Rafe, we see the disparity in his family; they are the stereotypical conservative Catholic family, considering homosexuality a horrific sin. What is fantastic about Jeremy and Tracy is that, while she does not entirely appreciate what he is going through, she fully supports him. It was a beautiful illustration of how a family can encourage rather than be homophobic.
Rafe is out, and his family knows and thusly they have all but disowned him. We do not see any other family members, but we assume that there is no strong supportive family. His best friend Brian is loyal, but he teases him like any competitive brother would. Rafe’s reflection on his family:
Now he was an embarrassment and the thing was, he was unwilling to work for their affection like a dog – to change one part of his behavior and be welcomed back into the fold. No way.
Rafe is a private eye, and the non-relationship aspect of this book is interesting and it did keep me guessing a bit. It is more than just a romance, but it was not just an entire book of angst.
I found a strong theme of acceptance of both yourself and your love. In the case of Jeremy, he has to recognize he is attracted to men, and Rafe must fully engage in the relationship. Rafe needs to discover a connection that is significant enough to commit, including complete honesty.
There are many things that I love about this novel, and I can tell that Culpepper will be an automatic buy for me in the future. I had been nervous to try a gay romance, fearing that I would not be able to relate to their relationship. The book is just a good book period, which has nothing to do about anyone’s sexual orientation. I have read some other male/male books and it is as if it is a series of sex scenes and the author says, “Weehee, now I have two penises to play with”! But Culpepper actually focuses on the relationship.
For example, there is a powerful scene when they finally get together, however I do not want to give too much away. But it is so emotionally exposed, so beautiful. It is an exquisite demonstration of honesty and truth between two lovers; finally letting their guard down.
The second thing that I love about this book is the humor. S.E. Culpepper’s humor so matches my own. Here is a quote:
Rafe found another dry towel on the top of his dryer in the garage and was dragging it along the kitchen floor with his foot when the doorbell buzzed. His heart buzzed right along with it and he sucked in a deep breath before he called out for Jeremy to come in. Best not to be too excited and pirouette to the door like a true fairy.
There are very few authors that I give a 4 or a 5, but I give both books 5 stars. I have already read both books at least 4 times each and I started to read them for less than a month. I constantly highlight quotes, whether because of humor or powerful prose that affects me. That is how I know that what I am enjoying is worth remembering.
What could be better?
The only problem that I have with this book is what I wrote in my intro. How can we know that a woman can write an accurate portrayal of a male/male romance? So for example, I find it hard to believe that someone would not realize that they were gay. However, I am in no way an expert so I will leave it to the author to know better. It certainly appears as if this author has conducted thorough research on the topic.
Next week I plan to revisit this topic from another gay male author and see if we can see any differences.
If you have never read any male/male romances before, I recommend trying this book first. It contains an even balance of romance, character development, humor, and mystery. Not to mention, some great hot sex!
1 Q&A with S.E. Culpepper (Groups), http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/67789-q-a-with-s-e-culpepper
2 Suede, Damon. http://www.damonsuede.com/author.html