REVIEW: Driving into the Sun by Dev Bentham
Bad choices. We all make them, some more than others. Dusty’s choices have left him unemployed, broke and practically homeless. Despite the major issues he has with his family, his only rational choice is to sell everything and move into his parents’ basement. At thirty. Looking for a ride west, he answers a phone ad. The voice at the other end of the line flows like dark, rich honey. Finally something to look forward to—listening to Joe’s voice all the way from Illinois to Idaho.
Rather than the hip crooner of Dusty’s fantasies, Joe turns out to look more like a panhandler. Is that because Joe dresses down, or are Dusty’s preconceptions about Native Americans clouding his vision? Joe is silent more often than not. He has a complicated past and still has amends to make. But he is ready to move on. Dusty feels trapped. Two damaged men, one small car driving two thousand miles into the sun—sometimes things need to break down before they can get fixed.
Dear Dev Bentham,
I have read and liked several of your works, so when you wrote to DA asking us to review your new release, I was very interested. Unfortunately while I liked your writing style and mostly enjoyed the characters, I just did not buy that their extra fast connection is necessarily going to be the everlasting love the narrative wanted me to believe in.
Dusty and Joe connect to go on this road trip in order to share expenses and have company while they get to the places they need to go to. And, they both have plenty of demons to battle. Joe has tried (and so far succeeded) to stay sober for five years, while Dusty fell in love with his boss who was arrested for financial fraud. While Dusty was not charged, he was fired and pretty much almost homeless.
Their trip lasts a little bit over a week and the book asks me to buy that in this short time Dusty reevaluated his choices, realized what he wanted from life, and was ready to move on with the right person. Unfortunately I could not buy it at all. It is not that I did not like Dusty, I did, but within the first couple of days of their trip he is ready to trust the wrong person – again. There was a third guy in the car with them who was only going to be there for the part of their trip. Dusty decided to go to a party with him when they got to the place where they stopped for a day or so, despite his inner voice being in doubt, despite Joe saying don’t go. What could have happened, right? The party ended in disaster and if Joe had not helped him, it would have been an even bigger disaster. Then, just a few days later, Dusty is absolutely sure that Joe is the one for him. I am not even talking about Insta!Love per se here, though no matter how much I will stretch here, it was way too fast for me. It was not even “– let’s start dating,” no it is basically – “we belong with each other”. Maybe. I wish I could be convinced more than I was.
But I am not just talking about that, I am talking about the fact that nothing in the narrative convinced me that Dusty is capable of making good choices, of trusting people who are worthy of his trust. Of course I get that Joe is a good guy, but how the heck did Dusty figure it out so fast if his people barometer is so off?
I did like, though, that Dusty figured it out that he has other choices in his professional life rather than to move in with his parents, I appreciated that. I also thought that while Joe’s battle with addiction was a never- ending one, I did believe that he made some major changes with his life and was ready for a relationship if he wanted one. I liked their chemistry together; I just wish their move from point A to point B was not so fast. I know this happens in every other m/m book, and in some I can swallow it, but in this one it gave me a whiplash.
And of course we have the inevitable anal sex scene making an appearance again.
“Who was he kidding? He was already in too deep. Joe inside him would only make things worse. He should stop it now before Joe got back to bed. Joe would settle for a blowjob, a hand job, whatever. Except it was too late. Every cell in Dusty’s body wanted Joe buried deep inside him. And he was kidding himself to think anyone or anything would stop him from getting it now”
After few days of them meeting each other (three or four days that is) and without condoms too – why? Let me stress again – I have nothing against the appearance of anal sex in a romance story, it could be incredibly hot and if the couple loves it, the couple loves it. I am really tired though of anal sex being the most intimate and the most significant sex in the gay relationship. From what I have read it is just simply not true. The first sex they had been rubbing I guess. They seemed happy and satisfied, how is it less than anal sex? Why does a blowjob or hand job equal “settling” for something? Yet every other m/m book seems to repeat this axiom over and over – unless the couple has anal sex their relationship is somehow not complete, not fully blessed or something.
Moreover, I am perfectly okay in fiction with two people who just met having sex without condoms. I mean I personally feel it could be dangerous in real life, but people do impulsive things and I certainly do not need my m/m romances to be a sex education manual. However, in this book I get the impression that having sex without condoms is not used only to show that two men are so incredibly attracted to each other that they need to do it and they need to do it NOW and everything else be damned. No, I thought that it was used as extra – proof of their love, to emphasize how fast it sparked, and I just did not buy it.
“Joe pulled his fingers out. He picked up the condom. “You sure about this?”
“You wouldn’t lie to me.” Dusty took it from Joe and tossed it on the table. Joe held his gaze for a long moment. Was Dusty being foolish to trust Joe like this? Maybe. God knew he’d made bad mistakes before. But not this time. He was certain right down to his bones. Joe wouldn’t lie. And Dusty wanted to feel him, really feel him. Impatiently, he reached for the tube of slick and lathered Joe’s cock with lube”.
Once again, just how does Dusty know? Magic mirror?
(Unlike you Sirius, I do get bothered by no condoms in romance (m/m or m/f) in the early stages of a relationship. I think it’s not smart behaviour and I want my heroes and heroines to be smart. If they’re not going to be smart, the author has extra work to do to convince me I should care about the characters.)
Kaetrin I am once again thinking of your “Accumulation” essay. There are books where anal sex fits in couple’s sex life. But everywhere really? I have the next review done where it raised my eyebrows too, but not as much. However having said that unless it is a major irritation I am going to stop mentioning it because it seems to be one of the mandatory parts in every m/m romance unless the writer does not do explicit sex scenes. So basically if I want to read m/m books and I do looks like I have to put up with putting anal sex on pedestal :(.
It’s the same with PIV in m/f romance; I wonder if the same underlying cultural assumptions are carrying over.
I don’t want to get to graphic (or Freudian, for that matter), but I think the primacy of anal and PIV have to do with them being such powerful metaphors for willing absolute vulnerability and the desire to be … I dunno, consumed, engulfed, subsumed (see, I’m reaching for metaphors too!) by one’s lover.
I’m personally a big fan of boundaries in relationships myself, so it’s not important to *me*; but I can see how many people would think that this kind of total “surrender” is the litmus test of “true love.”
Willaful I know what you mean but I still cannot decipher PIV. Help? :)
Hapax sure, I can see that, in fact a friend of mine said the same thing when we were having similar discussion some time ago. I guess to me if we ( general we) think about anal sex that way it almost becomes a trope in its own way. Instead of portraying an individual couple’s challenges in the relationship what we get is imo an easy shortcut to them achieving the highest level of intimacy that way.
Sirius, I sent you an email so that no one would wind up in pending hell while giving you the definition.
And yes, yes, yes that it all too often becomes a trope or shortcut.
Sunita thanks and lol that I could not figure it out.
@Willaful: I think you’re right and it bothers me there too.
Conversely, one of the things I like a lot about m/m romance is how, generally, any kind of sexual intimacy is referred to as “fucking”. Which makes the primacy of anal sex even more confusing to me even though at the same time, it is saying exactly what I’ve come to believe about sexual intimacy – it’s *all* sex and there’s no “one true way” to be intimate (leaving aside procreative sex which of course requires PIV sex).
I suspect I’m in a minority here though. I hear from both m/f and m/m authors that if penetrative sex is left off the sexual smorgasbord, there is often significant reader pushback.
In romance, it is mostly the intimacy I want to read about and I’ve read scenes which are unbearably intimate and which do not involve penetrative sex at all.
@Kaetrin: good point and absolutely, I want to read about intimacy, connection more than any kind of sex. I am perfectly fine reading romances with I explicit or fade to black scenes too, but in that I know I am in the minority on that.
* with non explicit.
Sorry for spamming but I wanted to add that I am not asking to leave anal sex off the table, I just wish it was put in where it feels right for the couple, you know?
@Sirius: LOL can you spam your own post? :D
I completely agree. What I object to about it is when it is presented as some kind of gold standard to achieve before the relationship is “legitimate”. In m/f or m/m, when the sex is like a sliding scale that goes from 1st base to 2nd and all the way to “home plate”. Then it seems… rote.
I’m happy to read sex scenes but I want them to be about intimacy and character rather than because of some kind of arbitrary measure.
I’ve realised that the books which no or little explicit scenes work for me when there is other intimacy displayed on the page – sometimes this can be done by a lot of dialogue. It doesn’t have to be sex but I don’t mind when it is either.
Kaetrin yes I can when my brain is ahead of my typing :). Completely agree about “gold standard” . I do not mind and loved books with sexual intimacy either – I love when sex is done with the frequency of “icing on the cake” or on the story, but I will read all kind of romances, you know?