Muscling Through

Muscling Through - J.L. Merrow Loved it. Want to wrap it up in a bow, bathe it in stardust, and give it kisses.

This is a romance, but not in the traditional sense of "will-they/won't-they." Rather, this is more like a relationship study as we see, through the narrator Al's POV, how he and his partner have come to be where they are today. Going into the story, I knew that Al was a massive, rough-looking working class bloke, and his partner was a poshy Cambridge art professor. So, yes, the story of their getting together - and staying together - piqued my interest already.

What I didn't know, though, was how much I would absolutely love and be charmed by Al's narrative voice.

Here's the thing. Al's a simple guy. As in...he's not too bright, and he's the first one to state that. He's not disabled, per se, but he's a simple guy who's not quick on the uptake. He takes things literally and at face value and is a big softy who thinks people generally have positive intentions. Misunderstandings on his part abound, but he's rarely aware of them, even though we, as the readers, can read easily between the lines to see what the true intent of the other characters is. He doesn't understand compliments unless they are absolutely direct, and, at the same time, he doesn't understand insults, which is excellent for him (he continues on in his merry way), but can be a little uncomfortable for us and for his partner. That's actually an aspect that I think could make someone squirmy - like our "further" knowledge makes us superior to him in some way. I didn't feel that way, really; rather, I was charmed by Al's POV and misunderstandings and thought he was really precious and unique. Al is perfectly happy and content in his POV, so for me, it worked.

There isn't much "action" by way of crazy shite going on in the plot. This story was about the relationship, how it developed, and how Al and his partner came to understand each other beyond "just fucking" (Al's words, not mine). Don't get me wrong - there's stuff going on, including, yes, plenty of sexytimes to sate one's romance reading need. Actually - fair warning - there's a lot of sexytimes.

We also get what you might expect in the class differences set up that their two stations in life present. Al is well aware of his working class roots and that he's "not so clever," and he's perfectly comfortable and content with what he does and where he is in life. He's a poof. He likes to draw. He's attracted to Larry, but he knows Larry is posh and should be with someone cleverer. Al is remarkably self-aware and self-actualized without being aware of others' oblique intentions. Another interesting aspect is Larry's discovery that Al "likes to draw." We see Al's development into an artist, but oh no no! Don't call him that! He just likes to draw and, when they acquire the materials for it, he likes to paint, too. It's very sweet, and I loved how Al expressed himself through his art.

I loved this story. Absolutely devoured it. It took a lot of writing chops to create such a strong and vivid narrator who himself was unaware of what others meant, but through whom we, as the readers, could still recognize what was going on even when the narrator himself could not. It was really a unique reading experience, and I'm so happy I had the chance to ride along in Al's brain for the 80 or so pages that he let me. I thought the ending was rather abrupt, but then, upon reflection, I realized that anything else would not be in keeping with our simple-living narrator Al.