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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.