Genre: Adult Historical Thriller
Year Release: 2020
Listened to the audiobook
Trigger warnings: death by suicide, death of a parent (the father), gun violence, vehicular manslaughter, suicidal ideation, violent crime, self-harm, explicit sexual content, polite homophobia, references to past hate crimes, mentions of antisemitism, there is a dog who does not get harmed
Paul recently lost his father and feels adrift in his family. A bit of an outcast, he’s more interested in maintaining his butterfly collection than friendships. When he starts college, however, things seem to be looking up when he meets the wealthy, effortless, and charismatic Julian. What starts off as a friendship immediately erupts into an obsessive and unhealthy version of love.
A character study of a deeply insecure and narcissistic young man, plus the things he and his boyfriend are willing – and unwilling – to do to prove their love for each other.
The historical context for this story more informs the attitude than it does the actual plot. It’s the 70’s, and it’s still fraught to be out and proud as a gay man. This is the least of Paul’s problems. It definitely informs how he and Julian conduct themselves, but what more informs his relations to others is the polite distance his family keeps from him. That distance becomes a chasm as we learn more about his father and his parents’ relationship not only with their son but each other. There’s a hint of a closer sibling friendship with his sister, Audrey, but otherwise, the boy is lonely. And wow, does that inform the way he navigates the world, especially with someone who seems his total opposite. Much to their own tragedy, the two boys could not be more alike.
Nemerever’s prose is precise and does so much to get the reader uncomfortably familiar with Paul’s thought patterns. The mistrust, the endless perceived betrayals, the obsession – it can’t have been pulled off without the literary focus in this character study. I’ve seen Paul described as an unreliable narrator, and I’m not sure that’s true. The events play out as true, but his character is one that misattributes motivations and, more often than not, tries to make things about himself. Even when Julian pushes back, it’s fraught and is as erotic as it is terrifying. The way he gets under both their skins and into the physicality of it is meant to be hot, but also scary. This duality is pulled off so well in this book’s pages, even as the plot slows down to focus on the mundanities. It’s still fascinating, even if the gas gets taken off the plot a bit.
Intense, maladaptive, with an ending that made total sense to me, this is definitely a book to read if you enjoy dysfunctional love stories that are uncomfortably close in their perspective.
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