REVIEW: Trust in Me by Lori Toland
Dear Ms. Toland,
When I read the blurb for your novella I was intrigued. I am a sucker for storylines where a long-ago one-night stand resurfaces in the present, and unlike straight romances, in an m/m story it’s highly unlikely there’s a child in tow. This is a straightforward m/m contemporary romance, where the focus of the story is on the couple and there’s not a lot of extraneous material. The good part of this type of novel or novella is that the romance is foregrounded. The bad part is that there’s not much else to catch the reader’s attention, so the romance and the central couple have to win her over for the story to succeed. I’m sorry to say that for this reader, you didn’t manage to pull it off.
Tristan Winter is the co-owner of a company which provides technical equipment and support for conventions. When he has to sub for an employee at the last minute, it brings him back into contact with Jamie Hunter. They went to high school together, and during one unforgettable weekend Tristan had his first sexual encounter with Jamie, after which Jamie disappeared and Tristan never heard from him again. Nevertheless, for ten years, Tristan has been dreaming of him, and no wonder. Jamie is the embodiment of every man and woman’s dreams, from 18-year-old Tristan to the old lady he helps with her groceries. But, he did walk out on Tristan without a word, so Tristan is very angry along with being very smitten.
Jamie quickly overcomes Tristan’s hurt and resentment, and by the end of the weekend convention they are together once more and planning their future. In the second half of the novella, Tristan and Jamie go back to their hometown, where Jamie is welcomed by Tristan’s family and reconciles with his estranged parents. The only other conflict arises when Jamie is offered a new position further from Tristan, but that hurdle is resolved in the epilogue.
With such a thin plot, the characters really have to carry the freight, and neither Tristan nor Jamie is up to it. Since the novella is written in first person POV, we are inside Tristan’s head the entire time. I had to continually remind myself that he is in his late twenties and the owner of a successful business, because it’s easy to forget. Tristan appears to have had no personal life over the ten years; he was just waiting for Jamie. He talks more like one of my undergraduates than a mature adult: everything is “awesome,” from 21-year-old Jamie’s willingness to play video games to Tristan’s grandmother’s sage advice about his new relationship.
While Tristan feels somewhat unformed, Jamie is so wonderful that if he were the heroine he’d be a Mary Sue. Tristan’s inner monologues are full of flowery phrases and emotional gushing, which I could take if it were intentionally conceived as part of the character, but the whole book is written this way:
Leaning against the kitchen counter, barely aware of the knob from the drawer digging into my hip, I found a piece of heaven right there with him. It was only us in our little world, and nothing could take us away from here.
I lost myself in our kiss, and for a second, I was amazed he was with me too. Everything that had happened over the course of the last few days left me breathless with wonder. “Do you not know how stunning you are?” I didn’t want to speak loudly and risk breaking the mood.He was silent for a moment, and then he smiled. “I don’t know what to say. I don’t think I’m that good-looking. I’ve always loved your eyes. They’re so warm,” he said softly.
Maybe there are men who talk like this and think like this, and I just haven’t met them. Maybe if the whole setting for over the top, this kind of portrayal would work. There are several perfectly acceptable sex scenes, but they are written in the same style, and they skate the line between overly gushing and workmanlike.
I just couldn’t buy the premise that these two attractive, successful men, both of whom live in metropolitan areas, have basically pined for each other for a decade without doing anything about it. If they had other relationships, even friendships, in the interim, there’s no hint of it in the narrative. Similarly, their immediate and total commitment to each other is hard to believe. Jamie is so perfect and Tristan is so worshipful that I think the reader is supposed to see them as Meant For Each Other, but I needed more fully realized characters to buy it. So regretfully, I cannot recommend this book. Grade: D+