James, in his first novel, writes the story of a gay man who, before coming out, spends the first three decades of his life in repression and fear.
Starting around age 10, Jack is able to identify the first indications that he is gay, but he compartmentalizes the notion so thoroughly that the question of his sexuality doesn’t quite occur to him. Instead, he fantasizes about kissing a woman and taking her on walks through the park—a desire that eventually leads him to marry Maria, his classmate and longtime girlfriend. Before Jack’s marriage, he engages in his first anonymous sexual encounter with a man he meets at the gym. When his partner suggests a friends-with-benefits arrangement with the anonymous man, Jack thinks: “My god, he had just given me the perfect justification and the perfect way for me to deal with all of this. I did not want to be gay and live with a guy. That thought horrified me. I wanted to get married and have a family. But I knew I liked men and now this was a way to have both—a friend with benefits.” This realization sparks a string of similar arrangements throughout Jack’s marriage to Maria, and she remains blissfully ignorant until one of his affairs boils over into romantic love and his distance becomes too great to hide. Jack is then left homeless and without a spouse, though the love of his family proves stronger than he imagined. In the aftermath of his separation, Jack moves to Thailand for a teaching post, bringing his lover along. What unfolds there further shapes his relationship with both himself and his sexuality, bringing him to a place he could not have imagined while closeted and afraid. James’ colloquial writing realistically portrays characters living what is, by now, an often told story. He lends nuance to people in Jack’s life even while writing exclusively from Jack’s perspective, making Maria, for instance, a well-rounded woman rather than a prop for Jack’s journey. James doesn’t shy away from the sexual and technological realities of modern gay life, giving Jack profiles on dating sites and a propensity for texting, for example. Jack’s tale is one of development and romance, with few twists but a satisfying conclusion.
A smooth read about gay life and love.