A Guest Review by Feliz
Summary Review: This love triangle of the very different kind is a blazing angst-fest and yet so well-written that I barely minded.
The Blurb: After a disastrous relationship with a married man leads to losing his family and his job, Phelan Price ends up in the small surfing town of Cardiff-by-the-Sea, California. It’s the perfect place to recover from a nervous breakdown—he even becomes good friends with a fellow surfer, Hugh, a mystery writer who has plenty of demons of his own. Life isn’t perfect, but Phel is starting to get back on his feet. Then Phel’s estranged lover arrives under the banner of a messy divorce, the circumstances of which he refuses to disclose, and throws their peaceful world into chaos. Phel’s shock is complete when the man he’s been trying to forget introduces himself as Hugh’s brother, Nate.
As far as Hugh is concerned, this is as good as it gets: Nate completes their band of misfits perfectly, and the bond they develop through surfing seems strong. But he is unaware that, beneath the surface, Nate and Phel share a darker history than he could ever guess at—a riptide past that threatens to drag them under and consume them from within.
This book is likely to divide minds–while some will certainly enjoy it as much as I did, others will hate it with equal passion. So I’ll do what I’ve hardly ever done and start a positive review with a warning. To those who don’t want to read about cheating, please stop here, as this book probably won’t be for you.
Still with me?
Then let’s proceed to
The blurb is quite revealing as for our three main characters. First, there’s Phel, well-off manager in his family’s company, gay but deeply in the closet due to their strict conservationism. He meets and falls helplessly in love with Nate, unaware of the fact that Nate is married, father of a son and is actually bisexual.
Nate only wanted to scratch an itch with Phel, but he finds himself in it way over his head before he knew what hit him. He loves Phel, and he knows he ought to grow a pair and own up to it, but he doesn’t want to destroy his family. He becomes deeper and deeper entangled in his web of lies until, one day, the whole mess blows up in a disaster of epic proportions, ending with Nate’s marriage in tatters and Phel jobless and disowned.
Hurt to the point of devastation, Phel retreats into a therapy center in Cardiff-by-the-Sea. Here he meets Hugh who teaches him to surf. A successful mystery writer, Hugh is still grieving for his deceased fiancé, which is why he lives a rather reclusive life, but the friendship with Phel brings Hugh out of his shell. The two help each other coping with their respective losses, and all is perfect–until Nate shows up on Hugh’s doorstep, now divorced and still struggling to come to terms with his “new” identity as a gay man. And that’s where the tangle of lies and omissions starts anew, spiraling down and down as Nate wants to keep his sexuality a secret from his brother but win Phel back, Phel wants to take revenge on Nate but not hurt Hugh, and Hugh ends up having his loyalties tested to their limits when he finds himself lied to and betrayed by both his best friend and his brother…
Normally, I’m not overly keen on angst. Actually, not at all. But here… This book was a veritable dog’s breakfast of lies upon lies, guilt, apologies, more lies, hurt, apologies, love, friendship, nervous breakdowns, family dramas and family ties, so tricky and intricate that I had to wonder how it didn’t give me headaches. And yet it didn’t. On the contrary, I enjoyed it immensely. Which might be, in part, due to the writing itself.
I really liked this new-to-me author’s writing style, which I found a pleasant mix of straightforwardness and compelling intensity, laced with dry humor and passages of almost lyrical prose. The setting was used to the story’s best advance, which pertains for both the location, a Californian coast town, and the surfing in and of itself. In fact, surfing is what eventually brought the three main characters together, it is the common ground they all can agree on, if nothing else. The act of surfing itself is often used to illustrate a character’s emotions or current state of mind. Surfing and all that it entails, the sea, the waves, the boards, is essential to this story and not only some kind of backdrop to which the action is set. Nicely done.
Both Nate and Phel aren’t what you’d call nice persons; in fact, they spend a good portion of the book acting like certified assholes. They are awful to each other and to poor Hugh, who’s often a casualty in the Nate and Phel wars of love and hate. BUT, and that’s what I liked so much about this book, they had reasons to be as they were. Their psychological backgrounds were solid, as far as I’m concerned, at least to a degree where I could fully understand where they came from, how all the hurt and humiliation made them act the way they did.
Reading about Hugh, Nate and Phel’s tedious struggle through moving apart and moving back towards each other , I was reminded of this Kohelet quote that reads like “To everything there is a season…” and so on and on. They sure took their sweet time sorting each other out, and either of them did his share of damage to himself and the others in the process. At one point, it almost got too much for me to bear, my only serious eyeroll moment (it was Phel’s fault, of course, as he’s about the biggest drama queen on the planet, and at one point he had me thinking, ‘no you didn’t, not again, you moron…’ but he redeemed himself )
My reward for sitting through 200+ pages of sheer drama? An oh-so-wonderful, tugging-on-heartstrings reunion scene that was just this side of sappy yet beautiful and sweet without any stickiness and had my inner romantic sighing wistfully.
I wouldn’t exactly call this an easy read, it’s full of major screwing-ups and serious suckage. But if you’re willing to take a chance with characters who are nothing less and nothing more than deeply human, you’ll be rewarded with the small miracle that love can actually happen, even to those who obviously don’t deserve it and yet fight so hard for it that they actually might.