Read this with a certain Glitterpirate
on the rec of a certain Ed
Well, this was basically a jolly nice read. I would even go so far as to say delightful.
I've heard there are some concerns about this book femme-shaming and reinforcing toxic ideas about gender and queerness. My feeling is it ain't: while it is definitely *about* those things, ultimately it's a sweet story about a man who has internalised a lot of stereotypes about masculinity, gender and being gay, slowly coming to terms with the constructness and harmfulness of those ideas, and learning to live as the man he both feels he is and wants to be.
I offer this merely as a point of information. In the same way that if you mentioned you didn't want to read Pride and Prejudice because you were worried it was about sharks, I would tell you there were no sharks in Pride and Prejudice.
Now the book:
Well, there's an awful lot I like about. It's light-hearted, engaging and I felt it had a lot of heart. I don't know Australia very well, but based on the handful of Aussie dudes I have met over the years, Kaye's blunt, well-meaning but not always perfect, working class characters struck me as well-drawn and convincing. It was nice to have a hero who was a sales consultant for the ... something to do with the steel industry? *wrings middle class hands in confusion*. And a love interest who was a dental nurse. Quite a relief from the usual run of m/m characters who only usually do blue collar jobs if they're incredibly macho.
This book's alternative title could very much Educating Davo - but while it comes close on a couple of occasions, it just about avoids preachy. I think one of the things I particularly appreciated about Davo's journey is that it's never a transition from HORRIBLE MONSTER to RIGHT ON DUDE. It's about a basically good guy with some messed up attitudes who makes a real effort to get past them ... and does. And what's intriguing about it, espeically from the perspective of an over-educated, over-political queer, is watching this happen from the POV who someone who was never given any tools or frameworks to understand himself. There's a sort of perception that the language of social justice is the only language acceptable for articulating and exploring queer identity. But Davo's internal revelations centre on the hypothetical life of a pink sheep embroided on a baby blanket:
It must be hard to be a pink sheep among all those white shep. Being different, yet still the same. Being the same, but different. [...] Why, then, did this pink sheep look so happy? Wasn't he ashamed to be pink? [...] The others would be able to tell he was different, just by looking at him."
In general, I found it a well-judged and entertaining read. There's no great traumas within. Davo's journey to acceptance and self-acceptance is as low-key as he is himself. There are some lovely depictions of a spectrum familial, friendly and professional relationships, as well as intra-queer ones (no shaming of the slightly too-pushy open couple, for example). The, err, reality of babies - all their beauty and terror and shitfulness is also unflinchingly depicted. Again, I liked this because babies, in a lot of the romances I've read, have been angels devoid of bodily function. But actually you can still love a baby and find him/her entracing *while* covered in his/her shit and salvia. I think this why babies grow up at all. Otherwise we'd just kill them. And Davo's reaction to baby Maxine: terror and protectiveness and disgust and love very much reflected my own experiences with small humans, so I found it both refreshing and convincing.
Needless to say, Lee, the love interest who occasionally cross-dresses and tends towards the sparkly spectrum of gay (in his appearance, at least, there's nothing particularly camp in his manner) is wonderful. And, actually, I liked Davo too. Although his experience have twisted him into someone with a harmful belief system, that system is shown to be primarily harmful to him (although its roots in misogyny as well as homophobia are also acknowledged)... which is a sad and lonely thing. But, at heart, he's such a good bloke: honest, reliable, kind, protective, loving, An alpha without the dickhead.
I also appreciated the fact that Davo didn't bottom as a sign of His Conversion. While I don't like Toppy Top McTop Top as an m/m stereotype, I dislike even more "you may put something up my arse because I weally weally wuv you." Also Lee's bottoming is far from passive or submissive, so it worked for me as a sexual dynamic. And may I say a brief hallelujah for the absence of finger stretching. I used to just basically read past this cliche but then someone cruelly pointed it out to me and NOW I SEE IT EVERYWHERE AND IT BUGS ME SENSELESS. Except not here. Yay!
It's not a perfect book but, let's face it, what is. The style is as direct as its protagonist, but occasionally a little rough. We're talking on the level of a decent line edit ("No way," he denied. That kind of thing) and it didn't often jar me out of the story. Davo's messed up worldview occasionally crosses the line into cartoon but it usually settles. And for book that's right on almost to a fault about gender, sexuality and disability there are a couple of choices that make me uncomfortable. The only POC in the book is a chap called Fayed who's a dick to Davo at work and then resigns/is fired on account of said dickishness. And there's a completely random scene where a woman (the girlfriend of one of Davo's friends) tries to rape Lee. She's literally only the book for long enough for this to be her sole on-page act. And while I really appreciated a challenge to the usual men can't be raped / women can't rape men bullshit ... it was honestly fucking weird. There are plenty of okay (?) female characters in the book, usually mothers and babies admittedly, so it wasn't too egregious an example of women only existing in m/m to be evil. But it struck me as pretty unnecessary. And kind of insanely dramatic for a book that generaly consists of babysitting, dinner dates, and meeting each other's families.
But it's still got a lot to recommend it and so I do. Recommend it.