by JOE COSENTINO
Publisher: A novella from Dreamspinner Press
Genre: M/M Bittersweet
With his ten-year high school reunion approaching, Harold wonders whether Mario will be as muscular, sexy, and tantalizing as he remembers. As a teenager, it was love at first sight for Harold while tutoring football star Mario, until homophobia and bullying drove Mario deep into the closet. Now they’re both married men. Mario, a model, is miserable with his producer wife, while Harold, a teacher, is perfectly content with his businessman husband, Stuart. When the two meet again, will the old flame reignite, setting Harold’s comfortable life ablaze? How can Harold be happy with Stuart when he is still infatuated with his Adonis, his first love, Mario? Harold faces this seemingly impossible situation with inimitable wit, tenderness, and humor as he attempts to reconcile the past and the future.
This bittersweet novella begins and ends in the present with happily married Harold and Stuart. In between, we are given flashbacks to show us the story of Harold’s infatuation with Mario, much of it told through dialogue and Harold’s witty responses to the key people and events over those intervening twenty years.
The writing is superb and highly original. I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, but it made me chuckle, laugh out loud, say ‘Awww’, and cry. The humor and light-hearted approach to such a heartbreaking story worked perfectly and stopped me from becoming a blubbering mess. At the same time, the story has a happy ending. It has you thinking about love, commitment and being true to yourself, and cleverly interweaves moral and political issues.
If you only read one M/M book this week/month/year, I recommend you read this one. Seriously, it’s that good. I will definitely read this poignant story again and look forward with anticipation to Joe’s forthcoming works.
(The author provided a copy of this book in return for an honest review.)
PASSION. FLAME. Cherished one. Infatuation. Words don’t measure up. How can I tell you how I feel about Mario? Mario. It’s as if the universe created one perfect person, and put him next to me with a Keep Off sign dangling from his neck. The universe can be sadistic like that. As I stand here in front of my great room fireplace, as always, I’m thinking of Mario.
Stuart’s home from work. Let’s can the Mario talk… for the moment. Stuart (tall, thin, blond) and I (short, stocky, ginger) have been together nineteen years.
“Nineteen and a half years, babe.”
Stuart is having his 5:15 p.m. piece of fruit.
We met freshman year in the registration office at college. I was filling out my schedule the day before classes started. Stuart was making his schedule too… for his senior year. He invited me to his off-campus room for a special dinner. He had prepared and frozen it the week before in case he met someone. That night, after we made love (Stuart had ten packs of condoms in his night table, though it was his and my first sexual experience), we fell asleep in a pretzel position in each other’s arms. We have been cuddling in blissful and monogamous love ever since. True to the oldest child/youngest child theory, Stuart is a planner, and I’m a procrastinator. We make the perfect couple. He plans, and I put off. We fit together like a fundamentalist and an anti-gay discrimination bill.
My father is just like Stuart. When we’d go to an amusement park, my dad would give each of us a printed schedule with the time limit for each ride, time and location for snacks, and leave time and location. When I told my parents I was gay, my father disappeared into his office and returned with a timetable of when I should come out to the rest of the family, come out at school, have my first date, have my first kiss, marry, and adopt children. Maybe boys really do marry their fathers.
Sticking to Stuart’s schedule, like toilet paper to a shoe at a job interview, we rise at 7:00 a.m., do yoga and meditation, eat breakfast (organic), and get to work at 8:30 a.m. Dinner is at 6:30 p.m. and bed at 11:00 p.m. On Saturdays we clean, do laundry, and volunteer at the local LGBTQ Center. Saturday nights from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. we go out to dinner (organic) and to a movie with friends, careful to come home and go to bed at 11:00 p.m. Sunday we go to church (open and affirming), have brunch (organic), read the newspaper, watch PBS, call our parents, and go to bed directly at 11:00 p.m.
We live in a three-bedroom house with Hudson River views in upstate New York, complete with a double-story great room with a floor-to-ceiling limestone island fireplace, french doors, and interior balcony. The master bedroom, with a canopied four-poster, marble fireplace, sitting turret, and chaise lounge, is for us, as is the his-and-his spa bathroom. The second bedroom, with the wooden mantel, is currently Stuart’s study. The adjacent room is my study. The third bedroom, with a toy chest under the window seat, is decorated for our son. Except we don’t have a son. Now don’t get all Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf on me. It’s Stuart’s future planning. For now our nieces and nephews use it when visiting.
Stuart designed and prepared the layout and furniture for our house the day we met. Thanks to Stuart, we have two 401K plans, an IRA, life insurance, death insurance, medical insurance, car insurance, home insurance, health care proxies, living and dying wills. Over the years we were legally married in so many countries and states that I lost count.
After working all day at the office, Stuart has kissed me on the cheek, started dinner—from the menu for the month on the refrigerator—and picked up the mail from the kitchen island, whose shape, size, design, and granite and cherry wood finish Stuart planned when he was in eighth grade. He has gone upstairs to his study to research online and plan the itinerary of our summer vacation to Spain… three summers from now.
Okay, back to Mario. To tell you my story, we need to go back some years.
“Twenty years, babe. You have to be exact, or they won’t get all the facts.”
“Thanks, Stu,” I call upstairs.
Okay, let’s start at the beginning and go back twenty years. Isn’t time travel fun?
Joe Cosentino is the author of An Infatuation (Dreamspinner Press), Paper Doll, the first Jana Lane mystery (Whiskey Creek Press), Drama Queen, the first Nicky and Noah mystery (Lethe Press-releasing this summer), and The Nutcracker and the Mouse King (Eldridge Plays and Musicals). He has appeared in principal acting roles in film, television, and theatre, opposite stars such as Bruce Willis, Rosie O’Donnell, Nathan Lane, Holland Taylor, and Jason Robards. His one-act plays, Infatuation and Neighbor, were performed in New York City. He wrote The Perils of Pauline educational film (Prentice Hall Publishers). Joe is currently Head of the Department/Professor at a college in upstate New York, and is happily married. His upcoming novels are Porcelain Doll (the second Jana Lane mystery), Drama Muscle (the second Nicky and Noah mystery), A Shooting Star (Dreamspinner Press novella), A Home for the Holidays (Dreamspinner Press holiday novella).
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