REVIEW: Aqua Follies by Liv Rancourt
The 1950s. Postwar exuberance. Conformity. Rock and roll.
Russell tells himself he’ll marry Susie because it’s the right thing to do. His summer job coaching her water ballet team will give him plenty of opportunity to give her a ring. But on the team’s trip to the annual Aqua Follies, the joyful glide of a trumpet player’s solo hits Russell like a torpedo, blowing apart his carefully constructed plans.
From the orchestra pit, Skip watches Poseidon’s younger brother stalk along the pool deck. It never hurts to smile at a man, because good things might happen. Once the last note has been played, Skip gives it a shot.
The tenuous connection forged by a simple smile leads to events that dismantle both their lives. Has the damage been done, or can they pick up the pieces together?
Dear Ms. Rancourt,
I enjoyed reading “Change of Heart” so much that I was psyched to try another of your historical LGBTQA novels. Now it’s time to travel to the mid 1950s: Post war, “I like Ike,” heels and pearls, synchronized swimming and a world in which Gay men could be sent for shock therapy if they were caught in acts of “perversion.”
Buttoned up Midwesterner Russell knows he’s perverted but he’s going to keep his desires in check and do the right thing by his Aunt who’s given him a job, by his parents still grieving the loss of a son in Korea, and by Susie the childhood friend Russell is going to marry and spend the rest of his life trying to make happy. Then he meets Skip and all of Russ’s plans get blown to bits.
Skip was raised in Seattle and knows the places and people. Among the rough edges of skid row, he feels at home with others like him who hide who they are until they’ve sounded a newcomer out. But Skip can’t help throwing a flirty smile at Russell just to see if the Greek god will catch it. Ski’s friend Lulu – who has more stilettos and pearls than Susie and sometimes acts as Skip’s cover – will give Skip hell but Russ is the manly kind of man who heats Skip’s fire and since he’s only in town for a few weeks – why not?
Russell blows hot and cold though. One minute his kisses and blowjobs drive Skip wild and the next minute Russell’s fear of being found out makes him push Skip away. Russ is someone Skip finds himself wanting to know more about beyond the sex but Skip isn’t sure he can put up with the type of a man who would be willing to marry a woman and live a life of hiding even in the shadows. Russell’s sense of duty has been driving him towards a life that will make everyone else happy. When his neat plans get overturned, he feels relief and shame – and also giddy joy. Just to relax and be himself even for a little while is heady. But will Russell ever be ready and willing to risk everything for a chance at love?
As Skip and Russell’s relationship starts, stalls, sputters and then catches, the closeted 1950s come alive. Their anger and frustration at how they have to consider every public move as well as sometimes the private ones radiates off the page. The openness of a newly engaged hetero couple’s relationship and public acceptance – well after they announce their engagement and Susie isn’t going to be considered “slightly soiled” – contrasts with what men like them can do.
The sex scenes are hot then transition to something more. Russell might not be a complete novice but there is the seemingly obligatory first anal scene. Russell also gets an education in the Gay literature of the day, drag Queens and nellies. But Skip is adamant about not trying for any future with a man who begins by lying to him about his desires. Lying to outsiders to survive is one thing but denying who you are to a lover in private is another. Russell has to dig deep and finally open himself up. He’s got to also acknowledge that the life he planned with Susie wasn’t fair to either of them. Skip has to allow himself to believe that things can be different for him and that he might have fond someone to love instead of just sex.
By the end, I think I can trust that Russell has thought about this and worked through it to the point where he won’t cut and run the next time someone looks at him sideways. He and Skip will be in a city where Skip knows people and the safe places. Places to get misty holding each other’s hands. B-