Title: What It Looks Like
Author: Matthew J Metzger
Release Date: August 20 2016
Length: 80,615 words
Eli Bell is the only son of a police chief inspector and a forensic scientist. He’s grown up wonky in a world that only deals with the straight and narrow — and his new boyfriend isn’t helping.
Rob Hawkes is six feet of muscle, tattoos, and arrest warrants. A career criminal and a former guest of Her Majesty’s Prison Service, he’d rather hit Eli’s parents than sit down to dinner with them. One wrong move, and Rob could destroy Eli — and his family — without a second thought.
But this isn’t what it looks like.
Rob’s not in control here — and Eli’s the one to blame.
The fabulous writing style and the emotionally absorbing story pulled me in right from the start. What it Looks Like is a thought-provoking and informative read that made me consider whether the author had drawn upon personal experience to inspire the characters and their situation. The whole story felt real, with plenty of raw, gritty emotions. We are shown the mind and body of a person transitioning and the difficulties facing them, at home, in the wider world, and in forming a sexual relationship.
I particularly liked how the story begins with an already established relationship and we discover the issues confronting them, both individually and as a couple.
The story could easily have been sub-titled ‘Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover’. Eli and his family are dealing with his transitioning and Rob being on the scene has made the home situation worse. Eli’s father in particular is prejudiced and stubborn regarding Rob, not necessarily because of the transitioning, but because he can’t see Eli’s boyfriend as anything other than a criminal who is bound to re-offend. He isn’t only thinking of his son’s well-being, but also his professional position in the police force. Plus he is still adjusting to treating Eli as a son rather than a daughter. Eli’s parents might feel they were acting out of love for their child, but they are not responding how Eli wants them to. Rob reacts negatively to this prejudice and non-acceptance of him, which in turn perpetuates the belief that he is a thug.
Through all these arguments and shouting matches we see a person torn between the people he loves, wanting them to accept each other, and to make the situation more harmonious. Yet at the same time, Eli is often angry and stubborn and determined to do things his way. He tends to put Rob first in his life because he’s head over heels in love with him, and that only exasperates the situation.
Rob is loud and angry and yobbish. He comes across as a thug to those who don’t know him well. His tough life has hardened him, yet he is capable of love and affection. He loves Eli for who he is on the inside rather than what he looks like. He likes the book and is not been put off by the fact that the cover doesn’t quite match what’s inside just yet. Indeed, he loves the whole person and has readily accepted Eli from the start.
This is a complex story with several unexpected twists in the plot and character dynamics. There’s plenty of emotion and anger throughout, which on the whole felt genuine. It’s a realistic and gritty story, where life is not all chocolates and roses. Nor is it a rose-tinted look at relationships. The story is about working through problems and sorting out how they can be together, even if family members or some members of society object. Rob might be a criminal but he is more than that. Eli might be trans but he is more than that.
I loved that the characters appear real, with plenty of flaws and shortcomings. I particularly liked bad boy Rob and his brother, Danny, and how they accepted and defended each other and Eli. Rob might have been a criminal, but he loved Eli no matter what and was willing to support him. There’s some great banter and humour that goes on between the three of them, which helps to lighten the story.
The hot sexual relationship was a surprising element. These guys are young and kinky and I never quite knew what they were going to try next. There are D/s aspects to some of their scenes, where one of the partner relinquishes control, to the extent that safewords are firmly in place. We also see Rob and Eli’s softer side when they are not fighting. The cuddling and showing of affection help balance the story and made the love seem real.
There were a couple of things that made me pause when reading. Yes, there are strong emotions and arguments with lots of swearing throughout, but it’s not gratuitous. I felt it was part of their situation and true to the characters. Having said that, I thought one or two of the arguments were rather contrived for a specific purpose, including one that led to a BDSM scene. There’s also a little hypocrisy in Eli’s character. He’s trying to train Rob not to lose his shit and then Eli reacts to a situation just as Rob would have done. Also Eli jumps to a certain conclusion about Rob that leads to a fall out. He’d been trying to show his family that Rob is no longer a criminal, yet at the first hint of real trouble he immediately doubts his lover.
I know the story had to stop somewhere and we’re given a HFN ending in the epilogue with plenty of hints to how things would go. But I really would have liked to see what happened next for Eli and how that affected his relationship with Rob.
Overall, a highly recommended and incredible read with some superb writing. Be prepared for strong emotions and arguments with lots of swearing, plus some D/s sex and control scenes.
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Matthew J. Metzger is the front for a British-born author dragged up in the south of England as part of a typical nuclear family with three kids, a mortgage, and no dog because a dog would get hair on the carpet. A brief escape to the north to study focused his writing from daydreaming rambles to his first novel, Our Last Summer. It is unquestionably better than the dissertation he produced at the same time for his university degree, but probably not as inventive as the excuses he provided for missing classes so often.
Matthew has since returned to the London area, and therefore lives mostly on the public transport. He suspects that his next few pieces will probably involve homicidal characters on the London Underground.
For more information, please visit matthewjmetzger.wordpress.com.