Between The Covers

By Terri Schlichenmeyer, October 2019 Issue.

This one or that one?

Pick A or B, your choice. Have one or the

other, either-or, you have to decide because you can’t have everything. And

don’t reach for it quick or, as in the new novel Going Dutch by

James Gregor, someone’s going to get hurt.

James Gregor

Richard Turner hated online dating.

Tinder, Grindr, OKCupid, they were all filled with the same kinds of interests

and in-search-of’s from the same hot guys.

Blah-blah-blah.

As for Richard, he wanted love. He wanted

happily-ever-after with a man of his dreams. He also wanted to finish his

grad-school paper, but not too quickly: his entire life was made possible by

fellowship money that kept him financially afloat. Without it, he’d actually

have to get a job so, in the meantime, he had single dates with single men, and

he met with his academic advisor to discuss the work he wasn’t doing.

At least there was movement on that first

part: he’d met Blake, who was incredible, but who didn’t seem so into Richard.

Onto the next swipe.

Going Dutch by James Gregor

c.2019, Simon & Schuster $26.99 / higher in Canada 352 pages

And on that second part, well, Richard’s

advisor advised him to talk to Anne, a classmate who was also a rising star in

academia. Richard knew Anne, but only in passing and she seemed nice enough, if

not a little weird. As it turned out, she really knew how to write, though – so

much so, that she basically wrote Richard’s paper for him. She was smart,

well-traveled, and she also knew how to make Richard feel wanted. It didn’t

take long them to sleep together.

That was weird, too, because Richard

was gay. But he liked Anne, he liked spending time with her, and he

appreciated her generosity. She seemed to genuinely care about him. He started

thinking about moving in with her.

And then he met Blake again at a party.

Blake. Single, hot, and wanting Richard

now.

Going Dutch is a tight novel – tight, as if it’s been

sucking lemons all day.

It’s hard to imagine any two more

unlikeable characters than Richard and Anne, as they have endless, banal

conversations about their respective classwork and other mundane things. One

could argue that this inanity is perhaps the point of the story, but it goes on

for too, too long. When you’re in the midst of it, in fact,

you’ll understand completely why author James Gregor’s two characters can’t

find true love.

Enter Blake, who is a great distraction

but who’s not very fleshed-out on the page. Even so, he’s a nice burr under the

story’s saddle, adding a bit of desperately-needed interest to what ends up

something like wet firecrackers: a little spark and a sputter, doused by

overly-wordy narrative. And so this tale progresses to a squirmy-uncomfortable big

culmination scene that, alas, even Blake’s presence can’t fix.

This

book, filled with small talk and small actions, may appeal to habitual

people-watchers but just remember that Going Dutch is sleepy. If you want a

novel with any serious action in it, in other words, skip this one.


Adolescence stinks.

Look, there’s no other way to say it: it’s

horrible. You’re expected to adult but you’re treated like a kid. You can see

freedom but you can’t have it. Everybody thinks you know your future but you

barely know yourself. And in the new book We Are Lost and Found by

Helene Dunbar,you’ll see that nothing ever really changes.

We Are Lost and Found by Helene Dunbar

c.2019, Sourcebooks $17.99 / higher in Canada 304 pages

Michael, James, and Becky. They’d been

best friends for ages and Michael couldn’t imagine it any other way. On that

New Years’ Eve 1982, their future looked stellar, even though Becky was in an

iffy relationship, James kinda-sorta crushed on Michael, and Michael was

sixteen and solidly single.

On that, he was careful. Months ago, his

parents had kicked his older brother out because he was gay, never suspecting

that Michael was, too. Michael figured they were secretly hoping he’d find a

“nice girl” like Becky but instead, he was using his friends as cover while he

snuck into his favorite club to dance all night with boys.

It was there that he met Gabriel. It was

there, not long after, that he fell in love.

But what was love, anyhow? Michael had

never had much experience with guys – surely not intimately – and he badgered

Becky with questions. How did he know he was in love? He asked James how he’d

know if Gabriel was The One. 

Neither of them had any good answers.

Becky’s boyfriend was a member of the

Guardian Angels, and she wondered every night if he was alive. James was

distracted by a play he’d written, and by a disease that seemed to be killing

gay men all over New York. His sadness kept reminding Michael that AIDS was

still an unknown and that, for now, safety was everything; when Michael learned

one of Gabriel’s secrets, he knew that James was right. But there was no use

thinking they could avoid this disease. One way or another, it was going to get

them all.

With that as a backdrop to this coming-of-age

novel, you might think that it’s a story too depressing to tackle. Nothing

could be further from the truth, though: We Are Lost and Found

absolutely sparkles.

Helene Dunbar

But here’s the thing: you’ll have to look

for this book in the teen section of your library or bookstore, although the

tale itself may be halfway lost on those under 40. Readers who endured the ‘80s

as young adults, however, might see this novel as eerily biographical: author

Helene Dunbar offers sly reminders of evolving social attitudes, of the times

(movie tickets: $3.50. Preposterous!), of teen friendships and love, and of the

beginning of the AIDS crisis – memories that are forgotten, or best forgotten.

This, she does as she so perfectly, so evocatively captures the angst,

uncertainty, and shaky self-confidence of adolescence that it might make you

wince.

Give this book to a 14-to-18-year-old, but

be sure to borrow it back. Better yet, read it together. We Are Lost and

Found is for you both, and missing it would really stink.


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