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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Life After Joe by Harper Fox

Life After Joe by Harper Fox
Publisher: Carina Press
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short Story (115 pgs)
Other: M/M, anal sex
Rating: 4 cherries
Reviewed by Phlox

It's not the breaking up that kills you, it's the aftermath.

Ever since his longtime lover decided he'd seen the "heterosexual light," Matt's life has been in a nosedive. Six months of too many missed shifts at the hospital, too much booze, too many men. Matt knows he's on the verge of losing everything, but he's finding it hard to care.

Then Matt meets Aaron. He's gorgeous, intelligent and apparently not interested in being picked up. Still, even after seeing Matt at his worst, he doesn't turn away. Aaron's kindness and respect have Matt almost believing he's worth it—and that there could be life after Joe. But his newfound happiness is threatened when Matt begins to suspect Aaron is hiding something, or someone...

Harper Fox has constructed an intelligently written, thoughtful work with Life After Joe, one of internal drama and doubt.

Most breakups sting the soul a bit, but once in awhile the end of a relationship is so devastating, the jilted party feels as if the world has tilted and nothing can stop the slide into oblivion. This is where we find Matt in the opening scene, not only with his heart broken, but also with his sense of self-worth destroyed. Fast friends since childhood, Matt has never been without Joe, never truly dated, never had another partner, so when Joe announces he is leaving, Matt is devastated on multiple levels. This is not your average breakup; this is the complete destruction of the persona Matt has built for himself, one built around Joe.

The first person, single POV narrative allows the reader to join Matt in his self-destructive behavior. We get glimpses of the sensible young man still living behind Matt’s despair—he knows his drinking and sleeping around will eventually cost him his career, his home and his friends—but he’s having trouble caring. This vivid portrait of depression may be a bit difficult for some readers, but I found the gritty realism poignant and believable. The single person narrative is also a bit unusual for modern romance, but dramatically necessary for Aaron to keep his secrets until the end. Despite a bit of distance from Aaron, his character is still well drawn, painted by his actions rather than his thoughts as he treats Matt with almost heartbreaking kindness. He’s not perfect, though, which would have rendered him boring. Though it appears at first that his role is to rescue Matt, he is a wounded soul who needs some rescuing himself.

Much of the writing sounded to my reading ear more in the vein of literary fiction than romance, which I enjoyed thoroughly, but once again might not be for everyone. Well-crafted, beautifully phrased sentences with lovely metaphors pepper the work (I particularly loved one passage where the author compares time to a slide of honey.)

My only issue with this lovely work was in the ending, where the careful adherence to realism bent a bit and I had some difficulties with suspension of disbelief. It almost felt like a different story in the way we reach the resolution and reveal. That being said, the ending did not mar the rest of the story for me.

A well-executed story about two people finding their way back from the dark, Life After Joe is well worth the reader’s time. I devoured it in a single afternoon and sat staring at the screen, wishing there had been more.

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