Wednesday, November 21, 2018

#TBRChallenge 2018: Midlife Crisis
The Book: Midlife Crisis by Audra North

The Particulars: Contemporary gay romance, Riptide Publishing, 2017, In Print, LAMBDA finalist Best Gay Romance

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: I liked the cover, I LOVED the fact that both main characters were in their 50s, and I scored a free copy at last year's RWA Librarians Day.

The Review: Buckle up kiddies because I have a lot to say about this book - some of it good and some of it that had me frothing at the mouth angry.

Cam McGhee is a widower in his early 50s with two grown children.  He lives in a small, historically black, rural town.  He played high school football, married the girl next door, opened his own feed store and he's gay.  He's still firmly in the closet, but has decided to take a sabbatical from the business (his son is running it in his absence) and spend some time in The Big City (Austin).  Cam has to find himself, and who he ends up finding is Dave Montoya.

This is a romance, but to be honest it works better as a Coming Of Age or Self-Discovery Narrative.  Cam has been hiding his truth for so long that reading about the romance between him and Dave is actually quite sweet.  Cam married LaVerne right out of high school so not only has he not dated in a dog's age, he also hasn't been involved with someone he feels a deep attraction and passion for.  Naturally it all gets complicated when he realizes he is developing real feelings for Dave.  For one thing, Cam's kids have no clue that Dad Is Gay.

So what's the problem?  LaVerne.  The author chooses to employ flashbacks to Cam's marriage and that makes LaVerne a very big problem.  I learned a long time ago that life isn't fair.  You know what I love most about genre fiction?  It's fair.  True love conquers all, the bad guys lose in the end, genre fiction is art's way of righting the universe.  LaVerne is a sweet, small town girl who is "sickly."  Turns out she has sickle cell that goes undiagnosed for a long time and ultimately it's complications from that disease that kill her.  LaVerne is married to a closeted gay man who does love her (in the way friends love each other) and LaVerne DIES.  And by all accounts, LaVerne has no clue that Cam is gay (the author tap-dances around this a bit, but there's never any big moment where LaVerne indicates she knows the truth so I'm operating under the assumption she doesn't know).

LaVerne gets hosed.

LaVerne spent her whole adult life married to a man who had to fantasize about other men when they did have sex (which wasn't often).  LaVerne NEVER knew what it was like to be desired.  LaVerne never felt true passion.  No man ever looked into LaVerne's eyes and told her how much he desired her, how much he loved her, how he would walk through the fires of Hell for her.  And now, LaVerne is dead.  Her chance at happiness, her chance at true love and passion are forever gone.  And that makes me so angry I want to throat punch somebody.

Look, I get it.  I'm not unsympathetic to Cam's plight.  But the fact that nobody, at all, says word one about how LaVerne got shafted makes me angry.  When the kids find out they both ask Cam if he cheated on their Mom (he didn't).  But then they just drop it.  Nobody thinks for one moment what life must have been like for LaVerne - with a myriad of health related issues and a husband who was using her as a beard.

The worst part about this whole thing is that I don't think the author made these choices for her story with any malicious intent. LaVerne is not a villainous character by any stretch of the imagination.  However, while I'm not widely read in m/m, even I know that the sub genre doesn't have the best track record when it comes to writing female characters.  Which, when you think about the fact that the readership is largely female and the writers are largely female is seriously messed up.

Is this a sweet romance featuring an older couple?  Yes, it is.  But it's also a rage-inducing read about a woman who gets screwed, and not in a good way.  If there is any justice at all in the world, an author is going to read this review, agree with me that LaVerne gets hosed, resurrect her, and give her her own passionate, soul-defining and beautiful happy ever after with someone who treats her like a goddamn goddess.

I recognize that the narrative of Cam finally living his truth is a good one but I can't overlook LaVerne.  So...

Final Grade = C


Lori said...

There were several reasons why I stopped reading m/m years ago and the way the female characters were often treated was definitely high on the list.

It's really too bad this book had this problem. I would love to read more romances with older characters, but the ones I've read have mostly been problematic in really frustrating ways or just not very well done. Sigh.

Wendy said...

Lori: It's not like straight romances don't have these issues (Evil Other Woman trope anyone?) - but yeah. I mean, it's 2018. I feel like we should be doing better with this as a genre.

If you can completely overlook the LaVerne "stuff" - this really is very sweet in parts. But ugh. Seriously. How the Dead Wife stuff was written made me SO angry. I was so offended and horrified for her and she's NOT EVEN A REAL PERSON! It's a grave miscarriage of justice. Someone needs to resurrect LaVerne and give her a happy ending because I just can't. Honestly, I may have been generous with my C grade that's how outraged I am over LaVerne.

Jill said...

Boo! I didn't even finish my book. Again. My track record has been miserable this year. I picked a book with a poorly photoshopped dog on it and yeah, it was about what you think.

I feel like the internet might come get me for this, but I'm not really a dog person. They're fine, but just like kids in a book, if they're in there, there had better be a point. This was a lot of people cooing over dogs and talking about how people who don't love dogs are terrible. So over it. . .
(I do like cats more than dogs although my current psycho cat may poison me against them. 😒)

azteclady said...

Please forgive me, Wendy, as I indulge in a bit of stream of consciousness.

Had Cam been written as bi--and closeted over it, or not really aware of it until later in life, or (fill in the blank)--he could have very well loved LaVerne as she deserved, and still have motivation/conflict to set up his later romance with Dave. In fact, given how often bi people in real life get erased ("you are married/in love with (fill in blank), you can't be bi!" etc), I could see Cam dreading trying to explain to his adult kids that, yes, he had loved LaVerne, that they'd been happy despite her illness, etc.

Which is, loosely, the set up for Deidre Knight's Butterfly Tattoo, which created a bit of an uproar in online romland when it was published in 2009--precisely because a lot of readers struggled to accept Michael's bisexuality. And in that one, the dead lover was male, the second chance at happiness female.

I think it's reflective of that bi erasure that so few authors present bi characters happy in both hetero and same sex relationships in this type of premise. mfm mênages are fairly common, usually with some heavy kink involved, but well adjusted bi characters are rare as hen's teeth.

Wendy said...

Jill: There was a book a few years ago - right when the Put A Dog On The Cover craze started and everyone was going nuts over it "Oh, how cute!" etc. etc. And all I could see was how badly photoshopped the dog was. So bad the poor animal looked fake. And I never thought about animals like kids in romance but YOU ARE SO RIGHT! That's a perfect analogy.

AL: That's what killed me on this book. If Cam had been bi? This could have been SO good. But the author makes a big hairy deal about reinforcing to the reader that he isn't bi - to the point where when secondary characters assume that he is (after finding out he was married to a woman for over 30 years...), he corrects them. Great. Yeah, being married to a woman who you clearly did not love past the friendship definition makes it somehow all better? No, no it does not. Ugh.

The more I think about LaVerne not getting a HEA the more I want to smack someone, anyone, into next Tuesday. I know she's fictional, but damn I want to kidnap her and take her on a raunchy girl's trip to Vegas or...something.

I remember really liking Butterfly Tattoo but I read it so long ago. It's the kind of book I'm scared to reread for fear it won't hold up to my fond memories.

Dorine said...

Great review of a tough situation, Wendy. Even divorce would have been much easier to deal with in this situation. I really hate it when there's a death and the wrongs can't be righted.

I do like the cover - I would have been drawn to it as well.

Speaking of covers - this month's challenge is my favorite. I choose so many books by their covers that I now have an immediate TBR based on what I found while looking for this month's book in my piles. I always do that, push books around to the front while looking for this month's challenge but this month was crazier than normal. LOL

Thanks for keeping this rolling for us - I have read some great books this year trying to meet the deadlines. :)

Wendy said...

Thanks Dorine! I need to get moving on planning next year's TBR Challenge. November flew by in a flash!