A Guest Review by Raine
Summary Review: Lovely, quiet and domestic story describing with a strong sense of humour and a genuine intimacy the gradual changes in two unusual men’s lives – finally peacemaker Mark finds something he wants to disturb his bland life to keep….about time too.
Blurb: The only interesting thing about Why Yell, Iowa, is its name, so when Mark Johansen left for college, he didn’t plan to return. But his family has other ideas: his father manipulates him into a job he hates and his mother uses him as a patch for coping with his siblings’ problems.
When Mark runs into Jamie Novotny after a particularly bad day at work, he’s surprised to find the quirky kid he knew in high school has grown into a driven ecowarrior. But the shock of finding Jamie working in the local co-op pales compared to his astonishment when Jamie confesses he’s had a crush on Mark for years.
Their first night together leaves Mark happy but disoriented, but their second leaves him bereft. He’s unable to find Jamie because he refuses to use cell phones, fearing their environmental impact. Mark’s usual stoicism splinters, and he can’t stop himself from tracking Jamie down. When their lives collide, Mark makes room in his heart and his house for Jamie—but what Jamie really wants is for Mark to man up.
This story has a quiet and gentle charm. It is simply about stoical, big but determinedly gentle and often socially oblivious Mark learning to be true to himself and leaving behind his previous game plan to, ” survive life by not making waves. “ It is unusual for a character to grow so much and so believably over the length of a romance novel without the more obvious elements of extreme angst or possible exsanguination.
At first I found it was quite hard not to judge him quite unkindly as a doormat walked over by his generally unsympathetic family. His siblings are sexually feckless and lazily selfish, his mother manipulative while his domineering father holds the family in the grip of the interestingly named evangelical Church of the Inerrant Bible and the Lord’s Covenant. However Mark’s thoughts as he deals with the ups and downs of his family life are often so patiently and wryly amusing I ended up seeing through his more tolerant eyes. His brother Matt has four children with three women, and Mark mentions that, ” I’d been giving him gift cards to drug store chains as birthday presents for years, but it didn’t seem to do any good. “ Meanwhile Mark is an amazingly loving and caring uncle to all his nephews and nieces.
I liked very much that my opinion of Mark changed as he also developed under the influence of wonderful Jamie whose eccentric ecowarrior lifestyle envelopes his own family problems. Jamie is all about looking after other people; his infirm father, the planet, and especially the bees under possible threat from mobile phones. One of his many captioned T shirts reads, ” Have your Tribble spayed or neutered. “ As Mark comments, ” With Jamie there was always a cause. “ When he hears that Jamie an obviously out and proud of it gay man had been teaching at a state prison, he worries retrospectively,
” I was going to have nightmares about him surrounded by criminals, calmly discussing the dangers of allowing your participles to dangle, while they sharpened spoons and prepared to attack. “
It was so very enjoyable watching these two rather different men learn about each other and how to make the relationship work under really ordinary but painful stresses. One of the strongest elements of Mark and Jamie’s story was the fresh air of originality about their relationship. Their conversations were engaging, funny and often ended on a surprising turn, such a pleasure to have a break from the well used ruts of the obvious.
The distinctive small town Iowa setting, the details of Mark’s unsatisfying job alongside Jamie’s ecological commitments and the interactions with both families added a significant level of social reality that formed more than mere background and created a satisfying depth to the story. This is not a fast paced action packed romance, it perhaps winds down to a shuffle at times but this was not a real problem for me. I liked the steadiness of it all. The tension in the relationship comes purely from closeted Mark’s very slow acceptance of the new responsibilities he has about coming out. However even this common theme is treated with thoughtful insight as Mark’s unconscious coping strategy is explained. Mark has had to come to terms in his own way with his narrow religious upbringing but shows an endearing independence of thought and in the case of his sexual relationship a delightful liberation from guilt resulting in real joy.
To achieve a lasting relationship Mark has to change many of the way he has dealt with problems in his life and stop being, ” the person you pretend to be because you want to keep the peace.” It was a great pleasure to see how he deals with this challenge, finally learning the facts of his life.