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REVIEW: Bad Idea by Damon Suede

badDear Mr. Suede:

This is my first DNF review here, and it’s going to be kind of an odd one, because in some ways, I thought this book was terrific… I  just got to a point where I realized there were still a hundred pages left and died a little inside. The thought of pressing the turn button one more time was so repellent, it seemed better to leave this as a “Not for me, maybe for you” DNF review than to force myself to finish and wind up giving it a D or an F from sheer hatred.

Bad Idea is a full immersion story — we’re plunged right into action, a large cast of characters, and several complicated lives. Comic book artist Trip is helping out “his bestest fruit flies” by being cameraman for a huge Zombies vs. Humans chase across Central Park. He finds himself cruising a hot zombie with meaty forearms and bright hazel eyes, who turns out to be a special effects make-up artist named Silas. After some issues finding each other again, the two begin a tentative relationship.

As a huge participant in gay and geek culture, Silas is kind of a challenge to Trip, who’s a little afraid of both his gay self and his geek self. Trip is also a challenge to Silas, who has a love ‘em and leave ‘em reputation, and is uncertain about how to be the kind of “gentleman” who can make a real relationship work. Being with Silas gets a creative spark going in Trip, who starts to create a new comic featuring a strangely familiar sex demon — but leaving his safe, uninspired niche in mainstream comics to come out with a “very graphic novel” is a terrifying step for him.

Bad Idea is filled with verve. I was bummed when I recently read a book set in several exciting places, which gave no sense of those places — not a problem here: we’re in New York, and we’re really in New York. And all kinds of creative energy is buzzing. I loved reading about Trip’s artistic process, which ties into a recurring theme — particularly pertinent coming in a romance novel — about quality in popular culture. It’s not expressed in terms an outsider to the culture would use, but in terms of what comes from the deepest parts of the artist; what’s phoney vs. what’s genuine. Trip hates the whitebread “Archie comic”-ish work he does for money:

He rolled his eyes and cashed the checks, secretly certain Swamp Thing and Deadpool were somehow more real.

Could one imaginary world be more imaginary that another? How do you measure reality?

As his friend Rita tells him, “You gotta stop thinking that what you love is some kinda race you can win.”

I also really enjoyed Silas, a beefy charmer who’s a rare romance hero that struggles with his weight. Trip nevously expects him to be very dominant, because of his size; in fact he much prefers a more submissive role, which works out well for them.

Trip, with his psychosomatic allergies, doormat relationship with his user boss, and general “twitchiness” about his sexuality, is less likable; I confess, I wondered what Silas saw in him and started to get pretty tired of his issues. That was only one of the problems I had with Bad Idea.

Have you ever read a nonfiction book with a section of genuine transcribed dialogue? I’m always fascinated by how incoherent they are. Two people will be having a conversation they both seemingly understand, but they often don’t complete their sentences or ideas, and they don’t even notice — body language, or shared knowledge, or pattern completion will fill in what’s missing. It’s nothing like the orderly language we expect from a book. Reading Bad Idea was like that for me. It didn’t help that the ARC I was reading was badly formatted, but I switched to a clean copy and still found myself feeling lost. At first the sheer energy of the writing made that okay, but as more and more of the book seemed to be about side characters having lengthy baffling conversations, my boredom started to grow. Every conversation seemed to go for pages longer than it needed to; even the sex scenes started to drag.

That, combined with my frustration with Trip, eventually brought me to the “I just can’t go on” point. I may be missing something wonderful, and I’ll probably make another attempt later. But for right now, just letting it go seems like a really good idea. DNF

Sincerely,

Willaful

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Willaful

Willaful fell in love with romance novels at an early age, but ruthlessly suppressed the passion for years, while grabbing onto any crumbs of romance to be found in other genres. She finally gave in and started reading romance again in 2006, and has been trying to catch up with the entire genre ever since. Look for her on twitter or at her blog at www.willaful.wordpress.com

18 Comments

  1. SciFigirl1986
    Nov 18, 2013 @ 11:18:14

    how the hell is Trip afraid of his geekdom when he’s a comic book artist? His whole job is about being a geek.

  2. Willaful
    Nov 18, 2013 @ 11:21:08

    @SciFigirl1986: You could equally well ask how he can be afraid of his gayness. He hasn’t totally embraced who he really is on many levels. Presumably he does at some point, but I didn’t get that far.

  3. hapax
    Nov 18, 2013 @ 11:41:34

    Have you ever read a nonfiction book with a section of genuine transcribed dialogue? I’m always fascinated by how incoherent they are.

    Hah! Back when I was a Kelly Girl in grad school (best paying job I’ve ever had, sad to say), one regular gig was to transcribe tapes of executive meetings (oh, the things they did back before everyone had Skype…)

    Anyways, I highly recommend the exercise for would-be authors. It taught me TONS about how to construct realistic dialogue, and the crucial difference between “realistic” and actually “real”.

  4. Sunita
    Nov 18, 2013 @ 12:11:38

    The Goodreads reviews of this are … interesting (and GIF-laden). How did you find the onomatopoeia for the sex sounds? That would have driven me around the bend. Maybe it was supposed to imitate cartoon usage, but it was apparently only invoked during sex scenes?

    @hapax: And at the other extreme, there is the transcription of Vin Scully’s 9th-inning play-by-play commentary of Sandy Koufax’s perfect game against the Cubs. Beautiful.

  5. Willaful
    Nov 18, 2013 @ 12:16:08

    @Sunita: I honestly don’t remember noticing that. I did start to skim the sex scenes at some point…

  6. Sirius
    Nov 18, 2013 @ 12:20:45

    This book IMO needed to be cut in half or in three parts. I finished but I cannot tell you how much and how often I wanted to DNF this one – just felt that so many sentences were meaningless and added nothing to the story . And when I was getting to some nice moments I found not caring much.

  7. Carolyne
    Nov 18, 2013 @ 12:28:03

    There’s so much in the story I think I’d love–a vivid depiction of NY, comic book/geek culture–I’m tempted to give this a try in spite of the DNF. Maybe. If I end up not liking it, I’d have no one to blame but myself. I’m wary but curious. Like someone telling me, “don’t taste that, I think it’s gone off.”

    Two people will be having a conversation they both seemingly understand, but they often don’t complete their sentences or ideas, and they don’t even notice — body language, or shared knowledge, or pattern completion will fill in what’s missing.

    Nicely expressed. I’m sure there’s a way to write it well–to include the missing information outside of the quotes in an organic way. But that would probably bog down the story too, unless used sparingly.

    How did you find the onomatopoeia for the sex sounds?

    The what for the what, now?

    Goodness.

  8. Willaful
    Nov 18, 2013 @ 12:32:41

    @Carolyne: Some reviewers say you need background in those interests to appreciate this, so it might work for you. Though to be honest, there were plenty of references I *did* know, and I thought they were run into the ground.

  9. cleo
    Nov 18, 2013 @ 13:28:54

    Damon Suede seems to be one of those authors where there’s not a lot of middle ground – either you love him or wonder WTH all the fuss is about and why everyone else seems to love him.

    I really want to like his books, but I think that he’s just not to my taste. I haven’t read this one but I did read Horn Gate – which I think is the story that one of the MCs in this book wrote. I thought it was ok. It was definitely more focused than the NY firefighters gay for pay book, but something about the language and pacing still didn’t work for me. So thanks for your review, it confirms my decision to skip this one.

  10. wkw
    Nov 18, 2013 @ 13:33:28

    It always interests me the ways in which different books appeal to different people. Analysis can be really informative but does not always explain why one story grips the imagination and another doesn’t. I can’t always explain even to myself why one book engages me and another just bores me. Anyway…I’m not a comic fan or even reader—from that perspective there was much in Bad Idea that was, for me, like experiencing a foreign country. I am much older than most (any) of the people portrayed in the story, so have little in common generationally. And my home is about as far from NY geographically and culturally as you can get, so another foreign country, but, for whatever reasons, I found Bad Idea engaging, amusing, touching, and well-written. I liked the arc of most of the characters, although there were some mysteries that may or may not ever be revealed in subsequent books. Paranormal usually leaves me cold but I enjoyed Bad Idea so much I also read the linked novella, Horn Gate. It made me laugh. I read voraciously in lots of genres and I do read lots of m/m books, many of which are written by straight women. I find that the voice in m/m books authored by gay men is different, enough so that I seek them out and usually enjoy those differences. I can’t say prefer necessarily, because my preference is for good writing, whoever and whatever the author. My long-winded point is that what is good writing is a pretty subjective thing. I enjoy Damon Suede’s writing quite a lot and although this book might not be everyone’s cup of tea, I wanted to make a case for giving it a try—and I’m not even his mother or his aunt or neighbor or anything :-) Just a reader.

    I really like reading reviews and appreciate yours (and other DA reviewers) a lot. In some ways I find it more interesting to read reviews that I disagree with, especially when I respect the reviewer and appreciate their analysis and perspective. So, thanks for the thought-provoking review…

  11. cleo
    Nov 18, 2013 @ 14:13:32

    @wkw: I was hoping that someone would post an alternate opinion, so I’m glad that you did. I can definitely see why Damon Suede resonates with (other) readers. It’s so interesting to me how taste works.

    I have one nit-pick – you say that many m/m books are written by straight women. I believe it’s more accurate to say that they’re mostly written by women (who may or may not identify as straight or bi or queer). A lot of m/m authors don’t make their sexual orientation public, or at least not super public – it’s not safe to assume that someone is straight just because they don’t publicly state that they’re not. And several female m/m authors do publicly identify as bisexual or pansexual or queer.

    I’m a bit touchy on this subject since I’m bi and I know that some (many?) of my acquaintances may assume I’m straight since I’m married to a man – unless I specifically mention an ex-girlfriend or mention my orientation.

  12. wkw
    Nov 18, 2013 @ 16:00:09

    cleo, you make a very good point. I mostly based my statement about m/m written by straight white women from what I have read in their author bios, and other author exchanges I have read or heard, but you are absolutely right, both about assumptions and judgements. Thanks for pointing that out.

  13. Melissa F
    Nov 18, 2013 @ 16:19:01

    I’ve tried several of Suede’s books and I just can’t get past the actual writing. He has major issues with point of view that really trip me up. We’ll be moving along, deep in the point of view character’s head, and then suddenly bits of description of THAT character will creep in and I’m like, whoa!, did we just head hop? Is he thinking of his own shoulders as broad? What is going on here? And at that point, I’m no longer immersed in the story and I’m likely to DNF the book.

  14. John
    Nov 18, 2013 @ 17:12:10

    Suede’s writing just isn’t for me. I find the gaze very overly masculine; I read HOT HEAD and was turned off by how the characters struggled to break down their gender stereotypes and posturing even towards the end of the book (and gay-for-pay/gay-for-you just isn’t my jam because it feels limiting in its usage of the term gay yet implies asexuality or a non-gender/sex limiting sexuality.)

    The length also literally kills me. Again, HOT HEAD was overly long. Everything felt like it took ten pages to say what needed to be said in one. I cringed at the lack of editing in that regard. I am glad that a gay cisgender male is willing to author gay romance, but I think his writing has problems that didn’t get pointed out very much when HOT HEAD came out.

    Your review captured the positives and negatives of his style perfectly. Thank you for trying it – it reassures me that I made the right choice in not bothering to try another one of his works. :)

  15. Treasure
    Nov 18, 2013 @ 23:40:48

    I finished this book, but it wasn’t easy. I wish it had been better written, I liked the main characters, and I liked the setting. In fact the setting and the descriptions of the special effects make up were almost secondary characters in the book. I loved that Silas wasn’t the embodiment of physical perfection. But some where some how the actual story telling fell flat for me and made it struggle to keep moving to the finish

  16. Willaful
    Nov 19, 2013 @ 00:12:35

    @Treasure: I really liked that too — you so rarely see men in romance who don’t fit a specific physical type.

  17. Jen
    Nov 19, 2013 @ 08:55:35

    Your review sounds very similar to mine except you said it a lot better. There were parts I enjoyed but I kept thinking how do I have so many pages left? When is this going to end? Like others Hot Head is one of my favorites m/m books, I just think this subject wasn’t for me.

  18. Willaful
    Nov 19, 2013 @ 10:23:05

    @Jen: I always feel that way when I see reviews I agree with. ;-)

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