REVIEW: Ex Equals by L.A. Witt
Jane’s Note: We are posting this review in celebration of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Repeal that is occurring today. We’ll have a lovely post by Maili listing romances featuring deaf characters on Thursday.
Dear Ms. Witt.
I like your books. Your writing’s solid, the characters are great, the sex is usually hot. So I was excited to see that you had another m/m romance coming out. I also very much liked that the story was military set, because I know you know what you’re talking about when it comes to the military, and I was interested to see how you would deal with the pending repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (Today! I’m SO excited and have my rainbow “Veteran” shirt all ready to go!).
Chris is a brand-new community-college math professor who finds out that one of his students is his ex-boyfriend Justin. Justin signed up for the class knowing Chris was the teacher, in an attempt to see if they could reconcile. The book is told in alternating flashbacks of the beginning, middle, and end of their first relationship when they were in the Navy together, and their attempt at a new relationship now that Chris is out of the Navy. The power imbalances between them — now as teacher and student, and previously in the Navy — are a huge issue — in fact, almost THE issue — between them.
Your habit of writing in alternating first person perspective is…not my favorite thing in the world. I think your stories would be much better served by alternating deep third person POV, but maybe that’s just because that’s what I’m used to. Anyway, just a warning to readers if that kind of thing bothers them. I find it worth dealing the lingering weirdness I feel every time you switch, because then I get to read the book and enjoy your characters. But there’s still that lingering weirdness every time.
That aside, however, I *love* books that have relationships in which one character really and truly and honestly screws up and betrays their partner. The screw-up has to own up to it, has to say they’re sorry, and has to accept that the partner has the absolute right to refuse to forgive, and that the relationship would therefore be over. The partner then really and truly has to forgive the screw-up and make the conscious decision that the relationship and their feelings for each other are more important than holding a grudge or being hurt. Matthew Haldeman-Time’s Off the Record is like that, and Courtney Milan’s self-published Unlocked, and this book is too. Justin seriously screwed up by treating Chris like crap at the end of their first relationship. Most of the tension of the first half of the book actually comes from figuring out exactly HOW Justin treated Chris like crap. And Justin has to apologize — and mean it — and Chris has to forgive and mean it before they can get back together in the present.
The slight problem I had with this, however, was that I didn’t 100% think Justin deserved his HEA. He had been a first class asshole, no matter his reasons. And he was a selfish prick to take Chris’s class without thinking of the ramifications for Chris, rather than for himself. So although I was cheering for Chris to forgive, I had to take Chris at face value that Justin’s apology was all he needed. Because I needed Justin to suffer just a bit more.
While (I think) you get the military stuff right (I was Army, not Navy, so I’m not sure on the details. And WHY are some people on the ships called airmen? Surely they’re sailors? But I’m probably missing something), I don’t think you the college stuff 100% right. I’m pretty sure community college professors don’t have to do student teaching to teach at a community college. They pretty much need a Masters and then need to get hired. Maybe I was nitpicking because I’m a college professor, and then getting it wrong because I’m not actually a community college professor, but it all just felt…slightly off. It was like Chris was given a job just so he could be in a teacher/student relationship with Justin, reversing their previous power dynamic, rather than because it grew organically from his personality. Because, honestly, I don’t know how many people get a Masters in Math in order to teach at a community college. But what do I know? I’m probably wrong (and would love to hear about it if I am!).
However, now I’m just being picky because I can. This story was great. I loved Chris and Justin. The sex was totally vanilla and hot anyway. I loved them fumbling toward figuring out if the other is gay at the beginning of the relationship while on the ship. I loved the frank look at the horrendousness of the day to day grinding down of living under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, but now with bonus optimistic ending because of repeal (and go you for the full-on, optimistic, spectacularly-out-of-the-closet-and-still-in-the-Navy ending). I totally closed this book (on my phone) with a Happy Book Sigh (TM SB Sarah). And really, what more can you want than that?