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Rick R. Reed is a writing machine—and I mean that in the nicest way. His work is anything but robotic. He hops from genre to genre with ease and aplomb, and even goes out on a very thin limb on occasion (Dignity Takes a Holiday). But whether he fails or succeeds, he never disappoints. His latest romance, Caregiver, is no exception.
It’s 1991 and Dan Calzolaio and his cocaine-loving husband Mark, have moved to Tampa for a new beginning. Dan volunteers for the Tampa AIDS Alliance and becomes buddies with patient Adam Schmidt as Mark quickly sinks back into his old habits. Adam’s resilience amazes Dan, but a bad patch that lands Adam in jail finally claims his life. But Dan finds himself attracted to Adam’s partner, Sullivan—especially after he tosses Mark out for one too many binges. Can Sullivan and Dan make a go of it? Or does each of them carry too much baggage?
Caregiver is a fine, heartfelt romance full of Reed’s customarily well-crafted characters and he does well with this deceptively simple plot, finding the heart of Dan Calzolaio with ease. But it’s clear his sympathies lie with the charming originality of Adam Schmidt. The first time Dan meets Adam, Adam wears a nice black dress and pumps, greeting him with a pitcher of Mai Tais. He doesn’t really do drag, but he likes to see how people react. Adam is clearly a complex character.
And that’s where my main complaint lies with Caregiver. It’s way too short, clocking in at under 200 pages. Don’t misunderstand me—what there is of it is very good, which only points up the fact that there should be more. We barely get to meet Adam before he’s whisked offstage again. I would like to have seen more of Adam’s background, more dialogue with Dan, more revelations about who Adam really was before he gets killed off.
Similarly, when Dan throws Mark out on his ear (deservedly) and turns to Sullivan for comfort and—eventually—a new relationship, this also appears to move very quickly. And when a rehabbed Mark reappears, Dan must make a choice. He does so, again, far too quickly for my taste. The situations and the characters are all too complicated to deserve such slight treatment.
But it’s hard not to like a book that begins with Dan, an author, trying to sell the Caregiver manuscript to an agent who thinks it’s “just not the right time” for memoirs, and ends with him firing her ass because she doesn’t understand how artists feel about their “product.” It’s also hard not to like a book that has such clear, concise prose and interesting plot twists. And I did like it. Very much. I just wish there had been about a hundred more pages of it.
However, it’s a worthwhile addition to Reed’s catalog and will certainly be welcome on my shelf.
Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler