Monday, March 8, 2021

Ralph Josiah Bardsley - A Careful Heart

Travis Gaines and Stephen Davis are as close as two best friends can be. Born less than a month apart,
they grew up as neighbors in a small northern New Hampshire town. After college, they make their way together to Boston, craving the excitement and fast pace of New England’s biggest city.
As they get their bearings in Boston, Travis falls hard for Benson, a senior executive at the financial services firm where he works. Benson is wealthy, handsome, and well connected among Boston’s well heeled. At first it seems like Benson is everything a guy could ever want, but behind that glossy veneer is a dark side that threatens to tear Travis and Stephen’s friendship apart and change their lives forever.

Comment: I no longer remember why I added this to my shelves back in 2017 but I finally got to it and although it wasn't as wonderful as I might have imagined, it offered interesting scenes.

In this book we follow the lives of friends Travis and Stephen, since their childhood years in the same neighborhood to the different college years and the early start of their careers as roommates. As each learns what they want from life, there are several challenges, especially emotional, in their paths to happiness and some come out as big surprises. However, their friendship never wavers and it will prove very important if they want to have support with the most difficult obstacles in their way...

I think the cover and the blurb suggest a certain idea and as I was reading, I think the continuous attempt to match what I thought this would be with what it is made me feel a little confused and in the end it might have influenced my impressions a bit. The writing style worked for the most part for me but it made the story jump quite a lot and I think that also affected my impressions.

The story follows friends Stephen and Travis as they grow up and their personalities are obvious from the start. Stephen is quiet and reserved and Travis more outgoing and extrovert. I think the author did a good job in allowing the reader to read between the lines of their actions and dialogues since the narrative isn't linear, it keeps jumping from scene to scene and between important moments. On one had, this tactic is clever because it's the reader's job to gather what is important. On the other, though, it makes things feel choppy, too specific on certain details and then quickly moving on... it makes it hard to establish a connection with the main characters.

I liked Stephen more, basically because I identify a lot more with quiet personality people. He seemed cool and aloof though, at certain times. As if he wasn't as emotionally present... I suppose the fact the story is a little focused on the friends' relationship and their personal sexual identities, the fact Stephen is presented this way explains his reactions later on, to how he falls in love. I was OK with it but he did seem a little too laid back, although his relationship with Gabe felt cute but too simple.

Travis reminded me of a big puppy who needed attention so it was interesting to see his evolution as a character and the hard experiences he has with an older abusive boyfriend. The book isn't too explicit and, again, we read a lot more between the lines than we see obvious abuse scenes although they are present. I think the gravity of the situation comes more from the character's reactions than anything too triggering but of course that might vary from reader to reader.

Therefore, we have two characters who have different outlooks at life and who are "given" different relationships and a big part of the book is centered in this, in how these guys see things around them. I feel we are able to connect more easily with Stephen because we also have the POV of Gabe, who ends up being his boyfriend. They are a cute, steady, quiet couple and I really liked how in sync with one another they were, how respectful of one another. I suppose a bit more passion, more intensity in their dates or in their scenes together might have been better (even if no sex scenes were there, as they aren't) to like them more as a couple. There's a contrast with Travis' relationship because we don't have Benson's POV. It's as if this was an exercise in opposite types of relationships.

I think a lot relies on interpretation and that is always a reader's personal task but the way this is written suggests a lot more than it has to. There are many scenes we are told about as the time jumps happen which, I believe, if they were shown - perhaps with less jumps - it might have made it easier to connect emotionally with the characters and their ideas. Some dialogues seem a bit too lyric, it's a little difficult to imagine real people talking like that or even discussing important things so quickly in one conversation, like a very specifically chosen moment is the only requirement and we can ignore if they had had other conversations at other times.

I liked this book enough and the author was very careful in presenting the themes he wanted to portray, I can almost imagine a list of things to tackle and ideas he wrote down before writing the book. I just feel that between this and the execution of the finalized book perhaps a step is missing in creating a more organic storytelling. 

Although I wished for more from this book, it wasn't a bad reading experience. I might try something else by this author in the future, to compare.

Grade: 6/10

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