Oh God. Brought to you painfully by Reading Project 2015.
I … I feel bad about what I am about to do.
But this book is...
Okay. Look. I was just desperate to read an m/m romance where everyone didn’t look like a Rodin sculpture. I’m not saying that gym-chiselled isn’t attractive. It’s just other things are too, an unremitting diet of fictional six packs is doing my head in and—even putting aside the not insubstantial issues associated with privileging one body type over every single other body type in the entire goddamn world— I’m bored. So, so fucking bored.
On the other hand, this book has taught me a valuable a lesson. Which I shall now share with you.
No matter how desperate you are, it is never ever worth reading a book about a particular type or subgroup of human when the title of said book is already creepily fetishing that particular type or subgroup of human.
Like. Butterball? Seriously?
I honestly don’t see why we stopped at that. Why not just have called it CHUBBY CHASER or FAT FUCKER?
Anyway, anyway, oh god help me. This book is about two self-made businessmen, one of whom is the epitome of ALL THAT IS MASCULINE EVER and has naturally got through the recession unscathed. The other is a fat, balding dude who has been made redundant and is riddled with a gazillion insecurities about everything.
Here is the thing I liked about this: both characters were older than average.
Here is what I didn’t like about this book: basically everything else.
A lot of it is honestly is just plain weird.
This is how Mr Macho describes himself (yes himself) to his friend on page 2:
"Gym-twink, Euro, and a double plus for body because I work out. I have chest and leg hair, but qualify as a spiff for dark brown hair and its business cut. I'm no ditz and am the dominant partner in a relationship. No whining. I use a tanning bed. I'm a man in my early forties and desire a partner near my age. My shaft of bull meat also qualifies as a plus-plus and I have an ample ball sac. I've been told my cream is pleasant. Probably because I watch my diet and I'm no fan of asparagus. The word is 'twinkhawk,' not 'twinkmeister," and I'm looking for a relationship, not a string of uncommitted hookups. That gets old, or maybe I'm the one getting old. I don't swish, nor do I desire one who does."
Did I miss a memo? Is this how we’re talking these days?
Because while I may have entirely incidentally remarked to a friend “I like to be delicious” when discussing asparagus the other day, I can’t remember the last time I idly weighed my ball sac for its capaciousness.
And then described it to someone else.
It’s just … this is page 2, y’know? And I’m already doing the head tilt. Like who would think about himself like this? Who would think other people think about themselves like this? Is it meant to be funny? Are we meant to think the hero is deranged? Or a robot? I’m pretty sure that only time I’ve seen anyone use the term double plus is in 1984.
Which doesn’t exactly scream romance or dating or emotional health to me.
And, look, I agree that there is a degree of a self-categorisation that comes with navigating hooking up but that doesn’t reflect or even translate to identity. It’s not like straight people stand around the watercooler going “I prefer clitoral to vaginal stimulation and my labia are plushy and sizeable.”
(At least, I don't think they do? Do you? Not in earshot of me, anyway).
I’d say it was all downhill from there but his exchange pretty much sets the tone of incoherent peculiarity. The whole book is this slightly awkward coming together of someone who is ludicrously conventionally attractive (dominant, powerful, wealthy, body-normative) and the guy he fancies because he has a particular preference for that type of guy rather than because Jeremy is appealing or attractive on his own terms.
For example, here’s our hero musing on why he wants to bang the fat dude:
Structurally, Jeremy could take his muscle and dominance. He didn't need to worry about bruising or breaking his partner. He also didn't need to feel like he was constantly wrestling for dominance.
I just cannot with how awful this is in every conceivable direction. I mean, it makes the hero look like an almighty bell end, it’s rude about thin people (just because you’re skinny doesn’t mean you’re fragile and can’t take a fucking) and it’s even ruder about fat people: this implication that just because someone is fat, they aren’t also strong or powerful or capable of dominance. This terrible and uninterrogated association of a particular body type with a particular personality type: soft and weak willed.
(Also I feel the word ‘structurally’ is best reserved for buildings, not humans).
This sentiment comes up a couple of times. In no way diminishing its grimitude. Almost as if the narrative feels it has to present a very clear rationale as to why someone like Travis could possibly be into an ugly, balding fatty like Jeremy.
Because, apparently, it is beyond the realm of imagination or possibility that he could just straightforwardly fancy the man. Since body shape in no fundamental way determines worth, attractiveness or personality. If you want people to be attracted to a character, you make them attractive. And, honestly, Jeremy just isn’t. Which has nothing to do with his weight. The best emotion I could stir for him was pity (although it was definitely step up from the mild horror which characterised my response to Travis). Not because he’s fat, but because the narrative assumes that—because he is fat—he must be pitiable. There’s even a scene where he eats all the cookies, for fuck’s sake.
Anyway, the basic arc of the book involves Mr Double Plus Ball Sac arbitrarily deciding that on account of being fat, Jeremy (regardless of whatever personality he actually displays) is actually a sweet, submissive, cuddly butterball of a man, and then fucking self-esteem back into him.
Oh, and Jeremy is closeted. And was formerly a straight dom. A straight dom who used to command his sub to make him suck other men’s dicks. Or something?
Aaaand both of them were abused as children because that is what happens to gay characters in the name of social realism.
There’s also a faint air of kinkiness here, since Mr Double Plus Ball Sac defines as a dom and defines Jeremy as being his sub (something Jeremy just blithely accepts), but the kink itself is entirely nebulous and seems to be largely centred on who is fucking and who is being fucked.
That’s not kinky. That’s just sex.
Yes, being fucked can be submissive act but my Hate-O-Metre dings the winner bell every time I read a book that assumes who-fucks-whom inherently involves a dom/sub power dynamic.
Here are some other examples of this book being weird or offensive or weird and offensive:Number One
Jeremy had never been a fan of an evening spent at the movies ... This time, though, it had been different. He'd had a good time. The tub of hot, buttered popcorn was not only heavenly, but he hadn't had to share.
Fat people. Greedy, right? It is not enough that they eat all the cookies, they won’t share popcorn with you at the cinema. Number Two
"So, faggots, which one of you pitches and which one catches?"
While [Jeremy] stood there frozen, Travis stepped between him and the bully. An ugly red flush painted his cheeks and his hands curled into ham-like fists at his sides. "I do the fucking," said Travis. The menacing growl in his voice stilled the flock of giggling toadies. "And unless you step back, I'll show you how I do it."
Gosh, I’d love to be with man who would not only tell a teenager about my sexual behaviour but then threaten to rape him for my honour. What a prince.
I also love men who distance themselves publicly from any implication they take it. It’s so classy.Number Three
He hissed, a mixture of pleasure and protest, as his energy grabbed his playmate and dug in.
He felt boundaries, the energy levels that everyone had and those that identified Jeremy from anyone else, shift, shudder, and give way. He surged, penetrating his partner the way only a dominant does, shattering the sub's world and reforming him into a vessel molded for his tastes and pleasure.
Wait, what? His ENERGY grabbed his playmate?
I don't even know any more.
I just don't know.