- Title: Galley Proof
- Author: Eric Arvin
- Series: N/A
- Genre(s): Contemporary, M/M
- Publisher: Dreamspinner Press, January 2012
- Source: Digital ARC via NetGalley ($5.38 on Amazon)
- Trope(s): Angst, Family Drama, Commitment Issues, Fictional Author
- Quick blurb: Cranky reclusive writer gets the hots for his new editor and goes on Roman Holiday.
- Quick review: Great premise, entertaining first half, cracked second half.
- Grade: C-
I was hooked by the title, cover and blurb, and had it on my wish list for months, so when I saw it on my first cruise through NetGalley I kinda geeked out a little bit.
It’s nice that I can still be optimistic about a new book, but sometimes it can come back and bite me in the ass. (NO comments or editorializing, please. Thank you.) Galley Proof has some really good writing, but it was overshadowed by numerous distractions that kicked me out of my reading trance again and again and again.
It’s two different stories: The angsty, romantic Budding Relationship in the first half and the campy, shallow Shame Spiral in Scenic Surroundings in the second half. And I didn’t like the hero in either environment.
Fiction writer Logan Brandish is perfectly happy in his peaceful small-town routine with his best friend, his cat, and his boyfriend—until he meets the editor of his next book, the handsome Brock Kimble, and the lazy quiet of everyday living goes flying out the window….
Our heroes are Logan and Brock. The frat-boy/soap opera names should have been a red flag.
Part One: The Reclusive Writer….
For most of the good stuff at the beginning, we’ll just wallow in the author’s voice for a while.
The opening line….
I was clearly caught in a cliché.
Our hero Logan is a fiction writer. And the progress on his fourth book isn’t going well, so his publisher is sending him a new editor.
Meanwhile, Logan’s personal life isn’t exactly inspiring. His boyfriend, Curtis, is a cardboard salesman. Curtis talks about cardboard and thinks about cardboard and dresses like cardboard.
…the thought of being with Curtis intimately was starting to feel like a job. Some place I deposited sperm once a week. I knew before I had even formed the words in my head that I would need to end things with him. It struck me as a very odd idea. He fit in perfectly, didn’t he? He fit into my life perfectly. And at the same time he was wearing a part of me thin. He had become an unwanted groove.
Then along comes Brock, the Former Cover Model Editor.
“Don’t worry about it.” He smiled and sat down, sitting his briefcase in the seat beside him. “I’ve had worse things thrown at me than a piece of regurgitated chicken. I’m Brock Kimble.”
“Logan Brandish. Of course, you know that, or you wouldn’t have known how to find me…”
“Would have been easy enough to find you. All writers have the same look of social discomfort and inferiority.”
But first the kiss. It was not long and epic. It was ferocious and starved. He bit my lip and I bit back and with every groan I knew he wanted what I wanted. This would not be the dull, paint-by-numbers interaction I was used to with Curtis.
I stared into his face as we finished. Sweetness. Lust. Candy. Love.
When he opened his eyes and stared into mine, I knew I had made a mistake. I was in love.
Even our online conversations were strained and wire-thin, covering the basics of my manuscript and little else. Everything that needed to be said was just under the surface. At the shallow end.
… From here on out, I was certain it was beyond hope. Everything I would write would be transparent and soulless. Everything would be scribbling.
…I know I looked pathetic—a grown man on the floor in his underwear, surrounded by papers and folders.
I felt like I was falling apart, piece by piece. His eyes could see my destruction. There goes an ear. There goes a hand. There goes the heart. I was all over the floor.
And then, the thought bubbles in his head take over his writing (that never happens to me, I have no idea what you’re talking about):
“I threw in everything but the kitchen sink. And then I threw in that. Why not, you know? There are now zombies on the island and they stewed the crazy guy.”
Which leads to the shark-jumping portion of the program.
But wait – there’s more!
No, not really – I just wanted to get your attention. Before we move on to the fucked-up second act, let’s analyze one small bit of throwaway dialogue between our writer hero and his editor:
“Will there be sex?”
“Sure. There is always sex.”
“Good. Your readers love that. You’ve touched a lovely nerve with straight women. They, my friend, are your bread and butter. Do right by them and you will have an ever-loyal following.”
“They love the gays, huh?”
Brock gave a quick and suggestive lick to his ice cream. “Love them!”
Help me out here: Should I be amused that the author (the real one, not the fictional one) knows his audience so well and trusts us so much that he can tweak us about it?
Or should I be annoyed and insulted that he’s dumbing us down?
Part Two: The Sabbatical Under The Sun
ONE day I woke up, in as metaphorical a way as it sounds… I felt suffocated, pressed upon. Like some medieval torture where I was strapped down and rock after heavy rock was placed on my chest, one atop the other… I tried to breathe in heavy doses, but I just couldn’t go deep enough. I couldn’t reach down and open up.
Up to this point, I would have given Galley Proof a solid B – maybe even an A if the author could pull Logan’s head out of his own ass within the next few chapters. But it just wasn’t meant to be.
Instead, Logan undertakes a European Journey of Personal Discovery. It’s a blatant mash-up of Under the Tuscan Sun and Eat, Pray Love (ironically poked at in the story as Eat, Gay, Love).
It opens with not just one but two Very Convenient (and Simultaneous!) Coincidences to steer the plot towards the crazy side of the road.
One: During an anarchist rally in the middle of Innsbruck, Logan just happens to meet Auntie Mame and Vera:
Two women dressed in vibrant attire and watching the proceedings as if it were a gay pride parade… They came up, one on either side of me, their mouths exposing the brightest teeth in Europe. “Look, Vera!” the blonde woman said. “I told you it was him. Didn’t I say it was him?”
They’re friends of Logan’s gay porn star friend. What are the odds of that???
Two: These friends-once-removed just happen to be flaky AND filthy rich AND just happen to have an unoccupied wing in their palazzo.
“Why, that’s it!” Cassie cried in agreement. “Vera, you’ve hit the idea on the nose. Logan, dearest, you shall come to Rome with us. It’s settled. We’re heading there tomorrow and you will love it. Rome is the perfect city for writers and artists. It’s filled to the brim with lust. You breathe it in like humid air, even in the fall. We could be your tour guides.”
“And your pimps,” Vera said with a wink.
After he settles into his luxury accommodations, Logan hooks up with some locals, including the twink…
His name, this pretty little letter carrier, was Marco, and he would be my very first “Dearly Beloved Friend.”
…and the bouncer:
“It’s nice to meet you, Roberto. I’m Logan. Do you want to do this again sometime?”
He alternates between them, and neither complains because Logan is the Rich and Famous American Author who pays their cover charges at trendy nightclubs.
So now we have the inevitable A-Ha! Moments (plural) and the Prolonged Existential Crisis and the Drunken Bar-Top Spaz-Dancing and the Vera and Auntie Mame Get Thrown Out of St. Peter’s Basilica for Being Disruptive and Disrespectful.
Then, in the middle of a trendy Roman nightclub, we get to Very Convenient Coincidence #3:
I realized that shy call was coming from none other than Curtis Little. I twisted around so fast I could have drilled right through the floor and into the catacombs below.
Yes, the boring ex-boyfriend is now the number-one man in foreign cardboard distribution. And of course, Curtis has been Queer-Eyed by his new Eurotrash Colleagues in Cardboard, who have dressed Mr. Khaki in purple pants.
The ex, like all good conveniently reappearing exes, has Wise Words of Wisdom:
“…You can still have fun, but don’t lose sight of what you came here for. And”—he smiled and pushed his glasses up on the bridge of his nose—“maybe you should cut back on the sex. Sounds like you’re becoming a bit of a whore.”
Which brings the Prolonged Existential Crisis to a Tipping Point:
WHAT was I doing? What was I doing?
Curtis’s loaded question—and he had to know just how loaded it was—wouldn’t let me be. Was I simply trading one safe existence for another?
No, you’re telling us two different stories. Make up your mind.
With all the athleticism I could muster, I swung like a discus thrower and pitched the laptop into the river. A pinch of remorse surfaced, but I beat it back down into my core and was then able to enjoy the splash in the distance. I imagined the laptop dissolving into a million pieces, every regret obliterated or eaten by big Roman fish.
My thought: I hope that laptop doesn’t have mercury in it, because if it does, there’s going to be more than just his regret in the Tiber River food chain.
The Happily Ever After….
When we finally get to the HEA, it isn’t particularly satisfying because we haven’t seen or heard anything from Hero #2 Brock in months. Then: “Oh, I think I finally have my shit together, I flew first-class to see you, I was wrong and you were right, please forgive me.”
Or, as Logan sees it:
His smile was now a shade darker and more melancholy. Much more authentic than I had ever seen it. As for myself, my heart was about to explode in applause.
“Missed you,” he said. He wrapped his arms around me and we held like that for a still, quiet series of moments.
I suppose his way is more romantic. Whatever. I don’t really care anymore.
Hero A: Logan
I found our first-person narrator hero Logan kind of a tool, verging on being an asshole. He’s whiny and self-absorbed – but apparently that’s to be expected because he’s a reclusive, list-making, desk-straightening writer. Or, as Brock calls him, Sphincter Sally.
The first few chapters primarily consist of Logan alternating between complaining about Curtis the Boring Boyfriend…
He was hard. Curtis never disappointed in that area. And it was a very respectable dick. Just like him. Stiff and rigid and always eager to help. All it needed was a pair of eyeglasses.
…and extensive mental lusting after Brock the Former Cover Model Editor:
“You should eat something,” Brock said. “I am concerned for your tummy. It is making the wildest of tummy noises.”
He grinned. I blushed, then looked at my scone with unbridled lust. I wanted to fuck that scone.
I never bought into Logan as a romantic hero. Despite his Epic Odyssey of Self-Awareness, he never really changes. Brock comes to him and they kiss and hug and they live in Rome and make love in the fountains.
I wanted SOMEONE to tell him to get his head out of his ass.
Hero B: Brock
One of the most frustrating things about this book is that the only glimpse we get into Brock’s life and backstory is one measly chapter set at a family gathering.
And to me, Brock is the more interesting character. He’s smart, funny, upbeat and a hell of an editor:
…He raised his eyebrow at me. “What the hell is this? …What the Helen Mirren did you do to your book?”
…“This is crap,” Brock said. “What the hell is wrong with you lately? The style is completely at odds with the style of the rest of the book. Were you drinking? Or were you not drinking enough?”
…“Imagination.” Brock huffed. “Imagination only gets you so far. Look at Star Wars.”
He’s also complex and conflicted, with a somewhat Tragic Past. So when Brock pulls the “it’s not me, it you” commitment-phobic crap, it’s pretty cheesy but actually almost believable.
“I don’t know who I am, Logan,” he said. His hand was still on the manuscript. “I’m like this book. I’m not finished yet. I’m getting there, but it’s a whole lot of work. I’ve got some major plot holes.”
During the Rome Years (well, months, anyway, but it felt like years), Brock’s name is rarely mentioned, and usually only as a fleeting moment of guilt while Logan is orgasming with the Italian twink and/or bouncer. How are we supposed to get invested in Logan and Brock’s relationship if they don’t HAVE a relationship?
The serious WTFery….
One issue that almost caused a flunking grade was the useless interludes involving the hero’s BFF Janey and her pursuit of the local Mormon and Jehovah’s Witness missionaries. It starts in the first chapter…
To our occasional delight, the street itself—East Second Street—seemed to be in the middle of a territorial dispute between the Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses….
As far-fetched as it sounds, I half expected them to break out in song and click their fingers, like some reject West Side Story.
…and resurfaces throughout the book whenever a “lighthearted” moment is needed to break the tension.
Then we get to page 160:
“The good news is my sex drought is over. I had a threesome.” She paused. “With a Mormon and a Witness….
So, it was a bit awkward at first. Then it got really good. Then it got awkward again. And then… um, when the house caught fire, it was just plain scary….
Both Christians were blaming themselves for it, saying this was God’s punishment for their sinning. I went along with it, and said they were probably right. It was their faults. That they had led me astray and probably weren’t very good Christians in the first place. I wish you had been here. It would have been much funnier.”
Funnier? FUNNIER??? There was NO reason to include this. NONE. We’ve already learned through the random build-up episodes that she’s obnoxious and impulsive and manipulative. That scene just proves she’s a horrible human being.
I do not understand purpose of Janey’s character. Aren’t we “straight women bread-and-butter ever-loyal followers” supposed to identify with the BFF fag hag? She’s repulsive.
Also: She’s a preschool teacher. W. T. F.
Why didn’t I give this a D or even an F?
Because of all those lovely character-driven moments in the first half.
And because of the writing about writing:
…One of the things I’ve found with many writers is their—and I include myself in this—striking inability to vocally interpret their feelings. We find it difficult to say what must be said in the moment it would be most advantageous. Instead, we require pages and space bars, allusions and metaphors.
…EVERY writer has a collection—a crypt—of stories, outlines, even full manuscripts, that will never be published. This is a sad truth. While some of these might just be better left locked away, never to be read by another set of human eyes, there’s a minute possibility that others might be so brilliant, so ahead of their time that they just wouldn’t be appreciated and so are left to fade away in obscurity. None of mine are in this latter category, mind you, but I sometimes want to cry at the great masterpieces the world has never had the chance to see. Think of it. History is filled with writers’ crypts. Shakespeare’s literary sarcophagi.
And because of passages like this:
So there I was, at last out of my box. Shaken and dropped in the middle of a strange continent. Thrown to the ground and told to run. My travel experience being so limited, I was not ready for the culture shock. I knew there would be some, but I was betrayed by my ego into thinking I would be able to handle it with class. My life was not a sitcom. But Europe, I found, was so busy, so rushed and filled with things, it did not allow me the time to soak up life in the manner to which I was accustomed: little by little. I longed for my small-town, American existence. Here, everything was thrown at you in a heaping game of catch that no one ever won. I was flattened by it.
So when I average out the ~happy sighs~ against the *head-shaking* and >eye-rolling<, I get a C-. It’s not horrible, but I really can’t recommend it.
Now let me tell you what I REALLY think….
The only realistic and likeable supporting character was Frances Barlow, our hero’s chain-smoking, door-slamming, don’t-bullshit-me replacement editor.
She let out a breath of laughter and smashed her cigarette into a paper cup filled with water that was sitting on her desk. “Where to begin? First and foremost, get rid of the zombies. You write for men and women of a certain age, mostly women, not college boys and horror fans.”
“Fine. But I liked the zombies.”
“I didn’t.” She sat on the edge of her desk, arms crossed like a schoolteacher, jaw firm. “So, I’ve made you some notes.”
She picked up a thick tablet of paper and thrust it at me.
“Notes?” I said, taking it from her hesitantly.
“I read up on your other work, Mr. Brandish. I liked it for the most part. You have given us some good stuff. There were parts of the three previous novels you’ve published with us that seemed a bit sophomoric, but for the most part—”
“Wait just a goddamn minute!”
“Mr. Brandish, please don’t get upset. I’m only trying to help you grow as a writer. To produce the best work you can and give your struggling readership a boost. Read my notes and apply them. They will help you as you sort through the mess you’ve made.”
“I am not in writing class, Miss Barlow. I have a particular style.”
“And it is lacking in its current state. You are flailing. Anyone can see it. That writing is lazy! …If you don’t want to work with me, just say so. But I doubt you’ll find another editor who cares as much about our collective image as I do. At least, one that you don’t have to sleep with.”
I think Eric Arvin needs a Frances. Kind of ironic, isn’t it?