Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Marley Valentine - Without You

Julian was the boy next door. My brother’s best friend, he fit with my family in ways I never could. While he and Rhett went on to play house, I left the only life I knew, desperate for a fresh start.
Until everything changed.
Heartache came along, and the aftermath of my brother’s death was here to stay. I was now face to face with Julian more than I ever wanted to be.
Being around him brought up all my insecurities, forced me to deal with hard truths, and conjured up feelings I had no business entertaining. He wasn’t the man I thought I knew. He was complex and layered, and inherently beautiful in all the ways I’d never noticed.
Not on another person.
Not on another man.
Not until him.

Comment: I added this book to the TBR in 2020. I admit the first reason was quite shallow, for the cover is really appealing, both the models and the color scheme, which works very well for me. Then, I saw one or two reviews at the time and was sold on trying this story.

In this book we meet a cast of characters dealing with the death of a close family member. Deacon's brother Rhett had cancer and has recently died as the story begins, leaving a family in mourning, including his boyfriend Julian. The family has always accepted Julian but he and Deacon haven't had the best of relationships and that didn't seem to be a problem for Deacon had moved away some time ago. However, now that Rhett is gone, Deacon feels he needs to be there, starting with the death's anniversary and as he thinks on how to deal with all the worries and issues which made him feel like an outsider in his own family, he isn't ready to realize his opinion of Julian has always been the wrong one. Julian, too, feels Deacon has disliked him for something he can't understand but as they spend some time together he realizes there's a lot more to Deacon than just an enemy or Rhett's brother. Will these two mourn their loved one and learn they might have a stronger connection as well?

I believe it's pretty obvious the big subject in this novel is how two guys who, for all purposes, didn't get along until the death of someone important to them, now learn they actually have a lot more in common and might be falling for one another. The fact the deceased was a brother and a boyfriend, means their relationship, should it change, can be seen as something rather... odd or even misunderstood by others. At least, this is what I imagined the big conflict would be about but it turned out this was just one little thing.

It turns out that the big issue is focused on Deacon's self image and how he thinks of himself as part of the family and outside of it, as if his role has always been a weird one, not just because his parents have obviously shown more attention to Rhett, the younger sibling, but also because of the kind of expectations they had on him both before and after Rhett's death. This is a serious issue and there could be a lot to be said about the effects of such a situation in all family members, which I can conclude with the notion, this is a story more about family dynamics than taboo situations (or whatever one might see it) but, in that case, the blurb does feel slightly misleading...

The suggestion of this story is that there will be some angst over the fact Deacon and Julian will become a couple after Julian had been with Deacon's brother. Considering the way the family accepted Julian since he was the boy living next door, this isn't really such a big deal, in fact, a lot less than I anticipated because of how grief might have been felt by different family members, I wondered if someone would feel Deacon was trying to replace Rhett or that Julian would be the one doing it, but this was an issue that barely had any mention. 

Something else which was more or less brushed aside is the fact Deacon had always been straight. This doesn't have to be an issue but between the fact he never dated men, that he was in a heterosexual relationship when the book begins and that he falls for Julian seems a little too convenient and at some point I had the feeling the point was too obvious, too forced in putting these two at the same level, so that their relationship could change. I don't mind they got together, but the whole process wasn't as emotionally convincing as I would have thought, even though the author does try by making this a slow burn... but it still feels like it comes from nowhere.

Personally, there is something else which affected my lack of enjoyment. Apart from some details or choices through the plot, I felt really annoyed at times because this is told in first person, in alternate chapters, by Deacon and Julian. Yes, yes, a good way to understand or connect with them but, for me this didn't happen. I struggled to appreciate their thoughts, especially on themselves - we never think that formally or that poetically do we? - so the sensation this was something planned by the author was never something I could put aside, it felt as if it didn't always "flow"...

All in all, the basics of this story aren't bad and were, in fact, interesting and offered food for thought. I just think the execution, some writing choices weren't convincing enough for me.
Grade: 6/10

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