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Despite my reputation among friends, I am not opposed to
genre exercises. I love a good mystery, and I cut my teeth on horror and
speculative fiction (formerly known as sci-fi). Genre writing is the mac and
cheese of literature—good old comfort reading. You know how it’s going to turn
out, but the best of it makes the ride worthwhile.
I will confess, however, to having some difficulty with
romances. Not because I’m not a romantic kinda guy. Ask the men I’ve stalk …
uh, sent flowers to. Much of the gay romance that crosses my desk these days is
more like HeteroHomances—gay characters suffering the same plot contrivances
leading to the same happy endings as those experienced by heroines in Danielle
Steele or Barbara Cartland bodice-rippers. And yes, Virginia, I’ve read a few
of those, too. It’s just that these
characters are gay men.
These books really get my anti-assimilationist dander up, as
to me they reduce the incredible diversity of gay romance to idealistic
heterocentric monogamy, making us more palatable—and less dangerous—to society
at large. That way, we get to see gay characters finding their one true love
Just Like Straight People Do. There are those that would argue any visibility
is good for the movement, but I ain’t buyin’ it. For that reason alone, I had a
difficult time with McKinney and Wylis’ Solitude and Sea Grass.
Holland Faust was an Oscar-winning Hollywood star until a
lunatic fan slashed his face with a knife, forcing him to retire to a secluded
Maine island. Enter Ruby Kegan, the young man hired by Faust’s agent to be his
summer assistant. Of course, they fall in love. But Kegan finds he must choose
between his true love and a new job which will assure him a prestigious career.
Will Kegan leave? Will he return? Will he and Holland find true happiness
living on the island with the kindly husband and wife caretakers?
Of course he will. And that’s not a bad thing. It’s just a
bland thing. This is a case of a great premise and some interesting characters
bogged down by expectations of the genre. How I wish McKinney and Wylis would
have defied those conventions or made their characters edgier so that you
really did have a doubt how it would turn out. But every time I felt an
uncertainty, they plugged the hole and reassured me that things would be okay
in the end.
Which is a shame. The book has a marvelous sense of place,
and Holland Faust is a well-drawn portrait of a star whom fame has wronged.
Ruby Keagan is a bit fuzzy in terms of character, but the housekeeper and her
husband are nicely developed bit players even if they are stock. I just found
myself hoping that McKinney and Wylis would have taken more chances in terms of
the obstacles they put in their way. Okay, Barbara Cartland might not have done
But Agatha Christie would.
Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler