REVIEW: And Call Me in the Morning by Willa Okati
Dear Ms. Okati:
I usually like your voice and Gay For You is a (very) guilty pleasure of mine (and yes, I get more and more and more guilty about it and will probably stop reading it soon because I can’t handle the guilt). So I was excited to see this book at Loose Id.
Zane and Eli are both in their early-to-mid forties, both doctors at the same hospital, and very very very good friends. Such good friends everyone thinks they’re a couple, an assumption that pisses them off, not because OMG! Teh Ghey NOOOOO!, but…just because they’re not. But it exasperates Eli so much one day that he gets pissed enough to agree to Zane’s “experiment” of a kiss:
“For proof, you big dumb ox. We try it. It’s terrible. A sloppy mess. Then we can present them with the evidence and that ought to do the trick.”
Riiiight. So, they kiss, it’s explosive and they quickly fall into a relationship….and that’s pretty much it, really. I mean, there’s conflict, but none of the usual Gay For You conflict. They *enjoy* getting to figure out the new physical side of their relationship, rather than angsting about it, which is a novel relief. They angst about Eli’s aversion to letting everyone know his private life, but you present that not as worry about the closet, but rather just Eli being Eli. I kind of figured he’d feel that way about anyone. And there’s conflict there, but just…not much.
There is, however, one scene which almost made me close the book, in which Zane, who has been chasing Eli the whole damn book, suddenly starts trying to push him away, for his own good. And you try to justify it as part of his character, but it’s SOO strange and SOO out of character for who he had been up until then that it made me pretty mad.
Then there’s a “You almost died which makes me not care about anything anymore except loving you!” plot twist which you could see a mile off, but even that’s not enough for Zane to trust Eli, even though he was the one chasing Eli the whole time, and I just wanted to yell at him “Snap out of it!” So the conflict seemed to come from the “Need another 10K words” barrel rather than anything truly internal to the characters. On the one hand, their relationship was just that…a relationship that had to deal with the stuff that life throws everyone, but on the other, it seemed contrived and drawn out.
But I couldn’t figure out Zane at all, really. The story is told entirely from Eli’s third person deep perspective, which means Zane is really a cipher. We’re not quite sure why he’s suddenly chasing Eli or where his feelings came from, although there’s never really any doubt as to what his feelings ARE. He explains where it all came from at one point, but it’s like it was checking of a “motivation” ticky box, rather than fundamentally rising from his character.
On the guilt front over the erasure of real gay men in m/m literature, this book did a couple of things right: there was a gay couple in the book and they were not stereotypical (as far as I could tell, but then, I’m not a gay man), and while Zane and Eli never really identified as gay (problematic in its own right), they never repudiated the title when it was bestowed on them by others and they did talk about coming out. I don’t know if it’s better or worse that they didn’t have much angst about loving and being attracted to another man when they’d been apparently straight up until then, but the conflict arose from Eli’s emotional reticence and privacy fetish and Zane’s need to be open about their relationship, which is a problem that’s not specific to being gay, as I’ve said, so I think that’s a net gain. So, for a Gay For You book, it was about as good as it got, if you can ever say Gay For You is a good thing.
But the thing that REALLY made me crazy in this book wasn’t the plot, emotional arc, or politics of it, it was the actual writing. I’ve got two types of authors that I really love. First, those authors who use dialogue to carry everything, with sparing detail. I just flow through those books, not even realizing I’m turning pages. Suzanne Brockmann and K.A. Mitchell are the masters at this. I read one sentence of dialogue or deep point of view and know exactly who is speaking and everything’s so naturally done that I fly through the book. The other type is authors who write with rich, stunning prose and I savor every single word, so I read slowly and suck the marrow out of it. Alex Beecroft and Ann Somerville fit here. Georgette Heyer manages somehow to do both and very few authors can do that. You tried here, you really did, but OMG, it didn’t work. Because there’s bumps and blips and bits left out and I would be reading along, skating over the words and suddenly I hit a curb and go flying. Again and again and again. For example:
He sent Zane on his way with a spring in his step the likes of which Eli hadn't seen before, not even the first time they'd met, but which he wasn't without these days.
Say what? ::shakes head:: Or:
Sometimes anger was a destructive force, only good for doing wrong.
Sometimes, though, if you could harness that head of steam? You could pull out a last minute home-run.
0_o Talk about mixing your metaphors! So, instead of getting caught up in the story and just going with it, I spent most of my time going back over a sentence going “Huh?!” Which is not really conducive to a good read, in my mind.
I enjoyed the idea of the story and I like Eli’s character, but there was too much “Huh?” in plot, motivation, characterization, and especially in the writing, for me to recommend it.