A Guest Review by Cryselle
Review Summary: Huge unwarned-for issues and some serious ambivalence over the true-story aspect made this a very distressing read.
“Unless things have changed since the beginning of time, it’s not even remotely possible for two guys to make a baby. A family of two, yes, but not three.”
Being a straight, single man wanting to adopt in today’s society is hard enough. Not being straight? Whole new level. Red tape, classes, interviews, not to mention the expense, drive so many away with shattered dreams.
Steven comes from money, has a degree in business management, even though he’s chosen to work as a bar tender, he believes making a family can be done. He’s determined to do it, with or without long time lover Jorge.
At thirty-four, it’s time. Fate, of course, has other plans. His haunting past, and the brutal grind of daily life all have the power to destroy both the life he has with Jorge and the family he’s trying to build. Determination might not be enough to keep his dream of a family alive.
XBar is about a man finding the truth in lies, lies in truths, and learning how to be stronger than he ever thought possible.
Based on a true story.
Anyone who opens this book expecting a domestic story based on the blurb is in for a shock. This is Michele Montgomery writing, so there will be dark elements and a bit of BDSM.
This next is a spoiler, so highlight it if you want to know, but I consider it an absolute necessity for readers expecting a straightforward “gay man seeks fatherhood” story of angst, warmth, and fuzziness, which this is not. There is onscreen physical abuse and a glossed over but onscreen rape, which is absolutely not a mistaken idea of a BDSM scene. No negotiation, no consent, no HINT of it being anything other than vicious controlling behavior, and the victim was left feeling violated.
Knowing that this book was based on a true story created some mental anguish for me as I read along, wondering which elements were taken from a particular person’s life, knowing that someone, somewhere, has had to cope with every one of the plot points, and hoping desperately that the worst ones didn’t apply to the author’s character model—some surely didn’t, because the author lists this as fiction on her website. And given that I hated most of the characters for most of the book, I also got to feel horrible for judging someone’s life and finding it wanting. And for this reason, I’d really rather have my fiction be fiction and my memoir be memoir from now on, and for the next two weeks I intend to read nothing but non-fiction about inanimate objects.
The author does explain at the end of the book which elements she took from a friend’s life story, and fortunately for me, it was the plot line I connected best to, the quest for a family. Steven’s been seeking adoption through the traditional channels to no avail and great heartache, but also given that he’s not starting from a stable emotional platform, his gayness doesn’t look like the only factor in getting declined. (See why I felt awful? How much of this is criticism of a real person? A character is fair game. A real person deserves consideration.) Neither his ex nor his current partner were on board with the baby plan.
The ex is an ex for extremely good reason: as Jasmine, a secondary character, observes:
“Stevie, why in the name of God do you keep this loser around? To remind you there is still evil in the world?”
He may be a dom for scenes, but real life around him is anything but safe, sane, or consensual—Clay has no concept of boundaries and no intention of accepting being an ex, something that Steven plays into, over and over. And over. And OVER. (More reason for me to feel horrible—real people have real difficulties getting out of abusive situations, and everyone, including the author, agrees Clay’s abusive. Characters are expected to exhibit some growth over a reasonable page count, and Steven doesn’t: he shows huge strides backwards. Where’s the line between the real and the fictional elements here? *feels unfairly judgmental and also tricked, like I have to accept this characterization because there’s a real person in there somewhere*)
Other characters have a clear view of Steven’s response to Clay’s manipulation and do their utmost to get him to extract himself from the situation, but until he does, I wouldn’t entrust a plush animal to his care, let alone an infant. Jorge has some similar reactions, and better instincts for self-preservation—he’s not willing to be the disposable element in Steven’s life or to accept abuse.
Steven’s quest for fatherhood is the central thread throughout the book; the relationships matter as they impact his desires, and his friends/housemates both have their own dramas going and are affected by Steven’s concerns. Cassidy and Jackie are the two most sympathetic characters here; Jasmine is a horror in her own right, and even Kevin does his part to keep Steven in chains. Important as Steven’s quest is, it’s treated more as a subplot, and Jorge is a footnote more than a player too.
My distress over the real/fiction issues did not keep me from noticing logical inconsistencies, plot elements yanked from thin air, and something that is either an enormous but un-noted passage of time or a continuity error but a bounce out of the story either way. The explosion of happy-happy at the end has a huge Awww! factor but not enough support, though it may make up for some of the horrific journey so far.
Only my knowledge of the author’s work kept me from being taken more aback by the contents of this story—the unwary who pick it up for the baby angle in the blurb will be going . A major blurb rewrite might both reduce the number of sad surprises and increase visibility for the readers who would better appreciate the awful ex plot which takes the bulk of the page time.
This story is more about Steven’s growth than any one relationship, and he does at last become the man who knows to treasure the happiness he’s found, and to understand that it doesn’t always come in the expected package. But my goodness what a mess getting there. And I’d probably feel differently if it was totally non-fiction. Fiction is obligated to make sense, life isn’t. 2.75 stars