Erotica author Travis Beaudoin’s latest novella is a steamy tale of infidelity, brotherly betrayal, and the liberation of taboo desires. The sex scenes have plenty of visceral thrills, though it’s far more than a one-handed read. Break Me Down is a story that bares all with regard to the secrets we keep in relationships and in the bedroom.
Erik is a small-town transplant to New York City and an aspiring Broadway actor in his early twenties. As the narrator of his story, he’s a straight-forward, somewhat jaded guy who makes clear from page one he’s got one foot out the door in his relationship with Chad. Chad is a successful businessman a few years Erik’s senior. Since they met through a hook-up app, Erik hasn’t been honest with Chad that he’s just not that into him. Instead, he drifts along on a path of least resistance while Chad takes steps to develop their relationship as a couple.
It’s not the most likeable portrayal of a young gay man. Privately, Erik bemoans how mediocre Chad is in every way, but he’s expert at acting the part of the loving boyfriend. Like the story’s darker, transgressive themes, Erik’s callousness and sense of superiority is hard to read at times. But Beaudoin takes the reader on a boldly honest journey, which keeps one rapt on how things will unfold. Though Chad’s perspective doesn’t figure in, one wonders how much he knows about Erik’s ambivalence and if he’s pretending in equal measure to Erik. As a study of what’s unspoken in gay relationships, the story is reminiscent of a Peter Cameron domestic drama (The Weekend): real, uncomfortable and human.
Then Chad’s older brother Miles enters the story to overturn the couple’s wobbly applecart with finality. Miles is gorgeous, adventurous, and far more exciting than Chad. He’s also well-aware of his attractiveness, and no sooner than Chad leaves the room, he’s all over Erik. Erik says he hates Miles, and to his credit, he resists Miles’ advances out of respect to Chad. But the writing is on the wall. Erik is unmistakably attracted to Miles’ sexual aggressiveness while unmistakably dissatisfied with Chad’s conventional style of romance.
As the paradoxical literary adage goes, a good ending should be both inevitable and unexpected. Without giving any specifics away, Erik and Miles’ sexual collision is surprising, disturbing, and heartbreaking. The open ending leaves many questions. Was it all just one night’s bad decision? Is there a future for Erik and Miles? Or, perhaps if one squints hard, will the unlocking of Erik’s sexual need to be dominated create a new fulfilling start for him in relationships?
The signals point to a more pessimistic outcome, and the reader may leave the story detesting all three men, but it’s unlikely they’ll leave without recognizing an aspect of themselves in one of the characters.
Little descriptive touches enrich both character and setting. Erik’s fragile self-esteem is evident in his petty rivalry with another actor in an off-off-Broadway show (and what young gay man doesn’t suffer from fragile self-esteem?). Said show Cinderfella, a gay retelling of the classic story with lots of skin, is perfect for the standard fare off-Broadway. Scenes take place at rooftop bars, tiny Greenwich Village theaters, and crowded, boozy piano bars where theatre queens make out and grope each other in dark corners. It’s spot-on scenery for gay life in 2020 (minus Covid). An excellent title for fans of dark literary erotica (sub/dom play included) and gay fiction generally, comparable to David Leavitt and Peter Cameron.
Reviewed by Andrew J. Peters