I would rather like a book than not. It’s easier to give good news than to break the bad. People love you and laud you. If you like everything you read, however, pretty soon they also tend not to believe you anymore. But it’s hard to write bad reviews –especially when the author you’re reviewing seems to be a good guy and is so damn sincere.
Eric Arvin’s Simple Men is a light gay romance, to be filed under “beach reads.” Many times, these books rely on simple construction, stereotyped characters and worn plot devices. Here, there is a double helping – Verona College football coach Chip Arnold is in love with the school chaplain, Foster Lewis, and Verona jocks Brad Park and Jason Jordan are headed down the same path.
There is so much potential for conflict here that it seems a shame Arvin never takes advantage of it. He scratches the surface but never really delves into the complexities of the situations, or at least doesn’t make them seem to matter much to the characters. Like so many other writers today, Arvin tells far more than he shows, so we get a lot of information, but no real emotion.
And that’s not fair to the subject. An affair between a football coach and a chaplain ought to have meaning and drama and depth. We ought to feel their angst and hesitation and fear for their jobs and community position. But we don’t. This is, evidently, against the tenets of light romances, which is a damn shame.
The other members of my local Gay Men’s Book Group and I have delicious fights about this. “It’s just a light romance!” they cry whenever I poke holes in E. Lynn Harris or Johnny Diaz. “It doesn’t have to be earth-shaking.” And I wonder why not? If it’s important enough to write a book about, it ought to be earth-shaking. It ought to matter, dammit. If not, why bother writing it? Or reading it?
However, judging by Harris’ and Diaz’s sales figures and fanbase, there is a market for this stuff – a fact as mystifying to me as the political longevity of Sarah Palin. That’s why I feel like such a curmudgeon whenever I fly into one of these beach-read-rants. Nevertheless, I fly into them with enthusiasm, searching the crowd for the one or two people nodding their heads in agreement.
That’s not to say Arvin isn’t capable of writing something more substantial. He gets off some good dialogue and comes dangerously close to good interior monologue when he wants to make a point, but then he pulls back –almost as if he’s keeping an eye on the acceptable page count for gay romances.Maybe if he’d written less about gay romance and more about love, Simple Men might have been beautifully complex.
But that’s just one curmudgeon’s opinion.
Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler