Monday, April 22, 2013

Slam! by JL Merrow

Why I read it: I pre-ordered this one from Samhain - JL Merrow is an autobuy for me.  I'm glad I didn't even read the blurb actually because Jude's last name made me laugh out loud when I got to it in the story.

What it's about: (from Goodreads)  Limericks, lies, and puppy-dog eyes...

Jude Biggerstaff is all the way out and loving it - mostly. The Anglo-Japanese university graduate is a carnivore working in a vegan cafe, an amateur poet with only one man in his life. His dog, Bubbles.

Then there's "Karate Crumpet", a man who regularly runs past the cafe with a martial arts class. Jude can only yearn from afar, until the object of his affection rescues him from muggers. And he learns that not only does this calm, competent hunk of muscle have a name - David - but that he s gay.

Jude should have known the universe wouldn't simply let love fall into place. First, David has only one foot out of the closet. Then there's Jude's mother, who lies about her age to the point Jude could be mistaken for jailbait.

With a maze of stories to keep straight, a potential stepfather in the picture, ex-boyfriends who keep spoiling his dates with David, and a friend with a dangerous secret, Jude is beginning to wonder if his and David's lives will ever start to rhyme.

What worked for me (and what didn't): This book is so funny. I was laughing out loud throughout a lot of it and my husband got treated to highlights because some humour just has to be shared.  Told from Jude's first person POV, he is hilarious, taking himself not very seriously at all (nor most other things in fact).  He works in a vegan cafe (he's not a vegan and refers to it as "rabbit food") and every Saturday, watches the jim-jam parade as the local karate club does their run right past the cafe's front window.  His friend Keisha (who is a vegan) visits the cafe regularly and has all but been adopted by the owners, Vince and Lesley. Which is just as well, because Keisha is unemployed, desperate to find work and has a father who just got out of prison and is very bad news.  Lesley has MS and there are glimpses of the  the effect it has on both Jude and Keisha because they love her, as well as on Vince and Lesley themselves.  It isn't overdone, but these touches make Jude a more well rounded character - and give the book depth.  Jude and Keisha don't only talk about their love lives with each other - they met at a poetry slam and since then have made a close bond.  Their banter, which is mostly snark and insults, reveals a deep affection.

Some of the things which happen in the book are not funny.  Lesley's MS for example.  But the way the book is written, the way Jude reflects on things and thinks about things, provide opportunities for humour in the strangest places.   Like here, when Jude is about to be beaten up by a gang of homophobic dickwads.

There were three of them, all dressed in hooded jackets, as if they thought clichés were the best thing since sliced victims...

...They stood around, laughing at me while I tried to remember the karate-kid pose and—crucially—what you were supposed to do next. Get your head kicked in, probably.
To get closer to David, Jude (along with Keisha for moral support) joins the local karate club.  He is self described as very flexible but not at all sporty and his take on martial arts is hilarious.
Finally, David announced it was time for “basics”. 

I was reasonably certain he wasn’t talking about a selection of T-shirts in go-with-everything colours.
Jude is Anglo-Japanese - his father (who took off before he was born) was from Japan and his mother, Marina, has raised him alone. They are very close and one of the reasons Jude lives at home is because he was concerned about her after a break up.  The other is that he had a bad break up of his own (with the Stinky Cheese Guy) and needed a place to lick his wounds.  For all of Jude's bravado and in-your-face vampishness, he is vulnerable and it takes David a while to realise that.

David is semi-closeted - he's not out at work (he works in the construction industry) and matters are complicated in that Marina is dating one of David's colleagues, who, for reasons which are clear in the book, believes Jude is 15, not 22.

I did think the pair moved to "I love you" a bit too quickly to be completely believable for me and the ending was somewhat abrupt.  I would have liked them to be happier together for a bit longer before the crisis and resolution, instead of the very brief period it was.

David is somewhat of a cipher because we don't spend anytime in his head and he doesn't say a lot.  I liked him and I believed he cared deeply for Jude but I wondered sometimes if he was laughing at Jude rather than with him.

What else? Jude writes funny limericks which are interspersed throughout the book and there is a bit of poetry too - although not quite as much as I had been expecting given the title.  There was the slight promise of some cross-dressing which was (unfortunately) not very much explored but it seemed that David was up for it - he seemed quite excited by the idea of the netball skirt.

David's fears about coming out to the super butch construction crowd were, I think, well founded.  I'm sure he would have had to suffer some bigotry in his job but we didn't really see him having to cope with it.  David is a big strong guy who's a blackbelt in karate so it's not like he's as vulnerable as others might be.  But, he was concerned enough about it that he'd stayed closeted.  I'm sure coming out in that kind of environment is not all welcome and smiles and, while I'm glad he had support, I wondered whether what was in the book was entirely realistic.

I could happily have spent more time with Jude and would love to have gotten to know David more.  It was a fun, sometimes poignant, funny and sweet story written with the skill and style I've come to expect from Merrow (hence, her being on the autobuy list.).

Grade: B+

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