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Friday, February 4, 2011

A Taste of Love by Andrew Grey

A Taste of Love by Andrew Grey
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (199 pgs)
Other: M/M, Anal Sex
Rating: 4.5 cherries
Reviewed by Phlox

The lunch rush at Darryl Hansen’s restaurant, Café Belgie, is getting to be too much for one man to handle, and Billy Weaver is a young man in search of a job—any job—to support his family. Billy gains Darryl's respect with his earnest nature and willingness to work hard, but Billy's admiring looks resurrect pain and shame from Darryl’s past.

Until Darryl stumbles across Billy's secret, Billy is suffering in silence: his father died a few months earlier, leaving him struggling to raise his twin five-year-old brothers. Darryl takes Billy and the boys to the restaurant, where they’ll stand together to face the smorgasbord of troubles in their future… while Davey, Donnie, and Billy all worm their way into Darryl’s heart.

The old saying “the devil is in the details” is certainly applicable even when turned on its head. The sublime experience is in the details, as well. This lovely, well-crafted story accomplishes a number of things, dramatically and emotionally, but it’s in the loving descriptions that Mr. Grey truly pulls the reader close. There are beautiful sketches of Carlisle, a charming town I was gratified to revisit, if only on the pages. There are wonderful descriptions of food and the preparation thereof, which the author pulls off in realistic and often mouthwatering fashion. Even the descriptions of the threadbare apartment the boys live in are painted in heartbreaking detail.

The more of Mr. Grey’s work I read, the more I see this as his greatest strength—his ability to choose difficult subjects and unfold them in front of us in such a way that would stir even the hardest hearts. In Billy, we have a young man in a situation all too common these days. Thrust into the role of parent far too young, not because of bad choices on his part, but because no one else is available to fill the role, Billy struggles to provide to his two small brothers. While this is always heartbreaking to watch a young person put aside childhood and youth to shoulder such overwhelming responsibility, Billy does it with admirable determination and optimism. One doesn’t get a feeling of issue for the sake of melodrama here, but rather a sense of something very real. Too many children in our country go to bed hungry, and Billy’s struggle to provide for them day by day comes across as the desperate bargaining with circumstances it so often becomes.

Darryl, the other half of our story, deals with the guilt and self-doubt still with him from a stay in a ‘reprogramming’ facility. This could have been a story of its own, but we’ve met Darryl many years later and Mr. Grey chooses to show us his struggle towards normalcy rather than the terrible immediate effects of such misguided emotional abuse. By Darryl’s actions, the way he approaches life and deals with his employees, the reader sees he is a moral, compassionate person, yet he still doubts himself and his motives.

While we have a typical older man-younger man pairing here in the physical sense, our couple is otherwise anything but typical. We see that they truly need each other’s strengths and that there is the possibility, despite the employer/employee dynamic, for a balanced relationship, a meeting of equals.

The only small nits I had with the story, and they are small indeed, were some of the “kid-speak” portions of dialogue, which didn’t always ring quite true to me, and the fact that Darryl’s epiphany about himself seems to come too abruptly. Not that it can’t happen suddenly, but as a reader I felt a bit jarred.

Overall, this is a story told with heart and with loving care, with characters who the reader can’t help but love. Food, the element that holds all of the story’s characters together, comes through in marvelous presentations and mouth-watering detail. The next time I’m in Carlisle, I’ll be tempted to look for Café Belgie. I know it won’t be there, but that won’t stop me from wishing.

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