Recently I had the opportunity to read two m/m novellas by Amy Jo Cousins. In both the stories the main characters have to strip away protective layers of prejudice and defensiveness in order to move beyond sexual chemistry to real intimacy and the possibility of love. All the characters have access to plenty of sexual partners for casual encounters but want more. The tension lies not in whether they will notice each other and find sexual release together but whether that moment is one that marks the end of the relationship or its start.
Dance Hall Days is the the second to last novella in Dreamspinner Press’ “All in a Day’s Work” Anthology. Frank Armstrong is a bouncer at a dance hall catering to gay men in Depression era London. Large, solid and serious, his job is to watch the door, but he can’t keep his eyes from wandering all over Laurie. Laurie is a singer who performs in glittering drag and not all the kind of man Frank usually goes for. Laurie is not circumspect or conflicted about his interest in Frank and ends up unequivocally dedicating a torch song to him. Instead of reciprocating, Frank flees the dance floor, retreating back to his post. Embarrassed and vulnerable Laurie nurses his broken-heart by going home with all the wrong men. Feeling used & teary after yet another empty and specially hurtful encounter with a posh patron, Laurie is mortified when Frank finds him in the coat-room sniveling. Frank is gruffly and awkwardly trying to comfort Laurie when they hear the terrifying high-pitched whistles that signal a police raid. In desperation, Laurie hurriedly forces Frank into a hidden closet so they can avoid being arrested. In the dark of the closet it is Laurie’s turn to comfort and be strong for Frank who suffers from claustrophobia. There Frank accepts Laurie’s caresses but Frank and Laurie will both have to strip off their prejudice and misconceptions about each other if they want more than a few moments of sexual release with each other.
Cousins did a wonderful job re-creating both the glittering yet grimy ambiance of the illicit dance hall, both refuge and ghetto. She captures the isolation, desperation and loneliness of living on the fringes of society, sought after and used. How differently Frank and Laurie respond to the pressures of being gay in society that doesn't accept it makes it difficult for them to reach for each other. My happiness as they walk off together into the night is tempered by worry and wonder about what the future holds for them.
From the Anthology I can also recommend reading My OTP by Bru Baker and Not Quite 1776 by Therese Woodson.
My OTP by Bru Baker is about a pair of myth-busting TV personalities, whose easy chemistry and camaraderie inspire fans to fill tumblr with saucy gifs. But it is not just the fans who are shipping them and hoping to figure out if they are really a couple. Fun and breezy, a lovers to more story.
Not Quite 1776 by Therese Woodson was also worth reading. Henry is a historical interpreter who excels at one-night stands and flees from emotional entanglements in pursuit of his own vision of liberty. Owen is the sexy historical reenactor that inspires him to want something a little bit deeper and to not retreat from his offer of more.
I appreciated receiving a review copy of “All in a Day’s Work” from the author, Amy Jo Cousins.
4.5 stars for Dance Hall Days
Devin is an amazing older brother. Ten years ago, he stepped in to defend his pregnant sister Lucy, deflecting the brunt of his parents wrath by coming out. He then dropped out his master’s program to take a job that would help him pay their bills. Since then he has been active uncle and generally put his own life on the back burner. Other than trips to the gym he rarely makes times for himself, and contents himself with occasional casual hookups. When he loses yet another bet to his sister, he finds himself on a blind date with a beautiful young man he would never dream of approaching otherwise, the first of 5 dates to be arranged by his sister to settle his debt.
Jay is young, hip and incredibly angry when he discovers that Devin’s sister used a ten-year old photo on the dating site profile. While Jay does find Devin attractive, he is not at all the kind of man he is looking for anymore. Jay is adamant about not wanting to date another “daddy”, having just ended a painful relationship with a older more educated man who subtly and consistently denigrated him.
An embarrassed and apologetic Devin is able to convince him to stay for the dinner & Devin’s persistence and good nature eventually pierce Jay’s angry bubble and they end up enjoying each others company despite the awful start and then share a scorching parting kiss. Devin is well aware of Jay’s confusion and anger with himself so he leaves it up to Jay to make the next move, despite being completely infatuated with him. What follows are a series of false starts, sexy texts,interrupted dates, self-torture, & bad moves as Jay tries to reconcile his fears about getting involved with an older man and his attraction and growing feelings and desire for Devin.
This novella was fun despite touching on many serious background issues such as teen pregnancy, familial rejection, racism, stereotyping and power inequalities in some gay relationships because the main characters are more than a collection of hurts. There is a HEA, with the promise of more but it just feels like the beginning of a story to me. They have fallen in like for each other, but they will need to have a lot more dates before they fall in love.
4 stars for Five Dates.