Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Z.A. Maxfield - St Nacho's

Cooper has spent the last three years running from a painful past. He's currently moving from town to town, working in restaurant kitchens, and playing his violin for tips. As soon as he starts to feel comfortable anywhere—with anyone—he moves on. He's aware that music may be the only human language he still knows. Ironically, the one man he's wanted to communicate with in all that time is deaf.
Shawn is part of a deaf theater group at the nearby college. Shawn wants Cooper as soon as they meet and he begins a determined flirtation. Cooper is comfortable with down and dirty sex, just not people. As far as Shawn is concerned, dirty sex is win-win, but he wants Cooper to let him into the rest of his life as well.
Cooper needs time to heal and put his past away for good. Shawn needs to help Cooper forgive himself and accept that he can be loved. Both men find out that when it comes to the kind of healing love can bring, the sleepy beachside town of Santo Ignacio, “St. Nacho's” as the locals call it, may just be the very best place to start.

Comment: I got this book a long time ago, when I started getting interested in m/m stories. When I say "a long time ago" I mean around 2009 or 2010 which doesn't sound to be much but since it's now 2019, that's practically ten years already!

In this story we have as protagonist Cooper Wyatt, a young man who is running from his past by not staying too long in any place nor creating lasting bonds with other people. Cooper and a friend were drunk and caused a death and his friend was considered guilty of murder and went to prison. Cooper didn't but went to rehab because of alcohol and a dangerous abuse of substances. He feels he has wasted his talent with the violin for a useless life and now he badly deals with his guilt and sorrow.
The story starts with him arriving at St Nachos, a Californian beach area where he enters a (gay) bar and finds a place to stay and work for a while. He connects with Shawn, a deaf young man he's very much attracted to but doesn't want to have close.
When problems from the past get a hold on him again, can he atone and improve or will he be caught again in the same negative feelings of before?

Now that I have read some stories by this author (admittedly years ago too) and many others in the m/m side of romance, I must say this story felt a little dated. Not in content nor style but in how the story is presented. It feels like primarily m/m romances these days are a lot more detailed and long than this story felt like. 
It feels like the author wanted to include a lot in the same amount of pages as a longer book would have so there's a lot of quick jumps from situation to situation, too many elements compacted and not as much personal development I'm used to see. 
Or perhaps it's my impression because this felt more like a "telling" type of story instead of a "showing" one.

I would say this story had a lot going on. Not that a story shouldn't rely on complexity and when well done, it can add layers that make the story even stronger but here I think the great amount of issues to deal with and the small page count, the amount of telling made this story feel a little too impersonal, as if the struggles weren't as emotional because we didn't have such a good transition from situation to situation or scene to scene.

Cooper is a great guy and he is clearly on a path to redemption, mostly personal which can certainly be more difficult than having those around you cheering so even if some people around Cooper defend him or cheer him on, if he doesn't feel he is worthy of that, he wouldn't ver improve. I liked how he started thinking he is deserving of good things, that he has paid for how wrong his choices were but there is a lot he is dealing with. This could have been a great romance alone if it was just about the connection Cooper has with Shawn and his own view of things.

For me, the problem is that by mixing things with Cooper's "partner in crime" was too much. Too much drama and angst that i didn't think were well dealt with. I can now see the purpose was to create the base for the friend's romance in the sequel but... it was a little too much.
Shawn is deaf which, I thought, would be a great opportunity to see equality in romance and I liked how Shawn is portrayed as nor being shy nor as fragile as we tend to imagine those with some physical impairment. But, again, just this and Cooper's issues could have been enough.

The romance itself was cute and I accepted the fact things felt very impersonal between them at first, after all Cooper was defensive. But as things evolved and we were told their connection was getting stronger, I don't think there were enough scenes where that was happening.
When Cooper decides to deal with his past they are apart for a bit and that didn't help me either in recognizing the strength of their relationship. 
This was a good enough romance but it could have been so much better.

I still liked some of the emotional content, even if for me it not as exploited as I wished. It made me think of several things, it made me wonder how much of out lives is dedicated to regret, in a never ending game of "what if" and "I shouldn't have" that both makes you sad and angry but repetition starts to turn that into something redundant. People are complicated in real life but in romances I could have wished for a bit more confidence in solving things.
Grade: 7/10

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