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REVIEW: White Flag by Thom Lane

Dear Mr. Lane:

TL_WhiteFlag_coverlgI reviewed your Dark Heart in February (the book of the gorgeous cover), which I very much enjoyed. So when you sent me White Flag, I was thrilled to have it, short though it is (only 68 pages). And it was an enjoyable, if predictable, little read. But I’m really writing about it because of its place in another conversation I’m having about romance.

Charlie is a travel writer, a rolling stone, content never EVER to settle. On a canal in the French countryside, he meets Matthieu, scion of a vineyard family, who is attractive, seductive, determined…and has put down roots so strongly there’s no way to uproot him. Instant drama. Instant, unfixable conflict.

As I said, it’s a short little book, told from Charlie’s first person POV. Every now and then it’s got the emotional disconnect that I associate MFA program writing, in which the characters are observers of their own lives, not actors. But that’s appropriate for Charlie, who’s terrified about being dragged out of his observational mode and into the life of a boisterous, loving family. But then the emotions come back, most especially when Charlie and Matt consider Charlie’s inability to stay and Matt’s inability to leave. It’s a gentle little book, evocative of French wine-country, beautifully descriptive of Matt’s special wine, piercingly emotional when necessary. Predictable, yes, even in its ending, but that predictability is not necessarily a bad thing because it lets you just feel the emotions–and what else do we all read romance for, anyway?

So I whole-heartedly recommend White Flag as a half-an-hour read that just lets you sink into the gentle, emotional romance of two attractive men. And such beautiful writing:

Sometimes I thought those few days were like the water that we navigated. On the bright, sun-warm surface they were all glitter and idleness, an ideal time, two young men in no hurry at all to get where they were going. Matt slept beside me every night and woke me in the morning, tender and demanding: sometimes an ambassador with gifts, sometimes a fortress to be stormed. During the days he was just there, shirtless and beautiful, bringing coffee or demanding his turn on the tiller, lying sprawled on the cabin roof asleep or reading or sometimes reading aloud when he found something he wanted to share, talking or listening or interrupting, trying to correct my accent. Taking me away from the canal to show me a market, a citadel, a view. Opening a bottle of wine while he criticised my cooking. A constant presence, charming and desirable and maddening sometimes, always a delight and a promise and a sense of impending loss.

Grade: B

But the conversation into which this book so neatly inserts itself for me is one I’m having over at Jessica’s Racy Romance Reviews about Anah Crow’s Uneven (my review)and BDSM in fiction and real life. One thing that’s in contention over there is the issue of how the violence in the BDSM relationship in Uneven is self-negating for Rase (the masochist) and whether that is ethical and/or moral and something to be pursued and/or approved of. And what White Flag shows for me so beautifully is that all romance is about self-negation. All romance comes down to the conflict and the compromise to make the relationship work, in real life as well as in fiction. Because if one doesn’t compromise, if one doesn’t negate something about oneself, the relationship cannot work.

So Charlie (which I hear with such a strong French accent: Sharlee–blame French Kiss, my favorite movie of all time)…Charlie says to Matthieu:

I gestured at the white flag and said, “I surrender.” Wholeheartedly, uncomplicatedly, unconditionally. “I will stay, if you will let me. If you’ll still have me.” At whatever cost to myself, my life, my work. I could learn to stay still, to live another kind of life. As long as I was loved, as long as he would love me, I could learn.

And of course, Matthieu reciprocates. They both deny or change or adapt an essential part of themselves, they both surrender, they both give up their individual selves in order to be a whole together. And that, that right there, is the essence of romance for me. That’s what makes me keep reading. That moment of surrender, of giving up, of compromise and connection after the dark moment: “As long as I was loved, as long as he would love me”. And if that’s gently done through a white flag, or violently done through a backhand across the face, surely both are still romance.

Thank you for making me think and for such a thoroughly enjoyable hour of reading.

Best regards,
-Joan/Sarah F.

This book can be purchased at Loose Id.

Sarah F. is a literary critic, a college professor, and an avid reader of romance -- and is thrilled that these are no longer mutually exclusive. Her academic specialization is Romantic-era British women novelists, especially Jane Austen, but she is contributing to the exciting re-visioning of academic criticism of popular romance fiction. Sarah is a contributor to the academic blog about romance, Teach Me Tonight, the winner of the 2008-2009 RWA Academic Research Grant, and the founder and President of the International Association of the Study of Popular Romance (IASPR). Sarah mainly reviews BDSM romance and gay male romance and hopes to be able to beat her TBR pile into submission when she has time to think. Sarah teaches at Fayetteville State University, NC.

3 Comments

  1. Srsly...
    Jul 27, 2009 @ 07:49:09

    Wow, as a gay male, I must admit it’s interesting to read this review, and so many others, about gay relationships in romance.

    The interesting part is not the romance novels themselves. Whether they are written by men or women I do believe the authors are working hard on their craft.

    The reviews are what really interest me.

  2. Sarah Frantz
    Jul 27, 2009 @ 09:46:34

    @Srsly…: I’m not quite sure what you’re saying here. I think I am, but don’t want to jump to any conclusions. We’d love a conversation about our reviews and what they say about our reading techniques and what they say about us as female readers, esp. female reader reading books written by women about gay men….but if you’re not actually going to say what you think, well, we can’t have much of a conversation, can we?

    Thanks for reading, though, I guess.

  3. orannia
    Jul 27, 2009 @ 18:08:39

    That moment of surrender, of giving up, of compromise and connection after the dark moment: “As long as I was loved, as long as he would love me”.

    Thank you Sarah! Ummm….WOW! That was beautifully worded!

    I guess I’m an m/m romance genre newbie – most of the time I don’t really know where to start :) I did read Uneven after reading your review and found it a very…thought-provoking book (as I did Sean Michael’s Bent). I honestly wasn’t sure how I would feel upon reading it (Uneven) but..I’m very bad with words today – it definitely got me thinking :) *makes note to stop by Jessica's Racy Romance Reviews to read the discussion* And White Flag sounds like another thought-provoking book. Thank you!

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