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Gay romance fiction

Review: Timing by Mary Calmes

 

Timing by Mary CalmesI 've read this charming book so many times and (for some reason) have never sat down to review it properly... This is the book that made me a fan of Mary Calmes and one I return to often.

This is easily one of my favorite M/M romances ever written, showing economy, precision and fierce sexuality that rewards multiple rereads. Mary Calmes has a (well-deserved) reputation for writing delightful contemporary gay romance, and in truth this book may be the best single expression of her many talents for a reader who hasn’t taken a look at her work. The simplicity of the setup is deceptive, and a lot of the book’s success relies on Calmes’ mastery of “category” romance. It’s a stunner, but in a completely understated way.

EVERY time I read it I learn something about romantic craft. This get cited in hundreds of gay romance lists as a "comfort read" for a reason. The dialogue is hilarious, the dynamics are warm and believable, even the suspense subplot is handled deftly. Calmes’ affection for her two heroes (Rand in particular) cooks off the page. The blistering sex scenes and the complex family around these characters only add to the experience. The first time I read the book I felt like I KNEW these characters and their world, and having grown up with a family ranch, that’s saying something. Even better, every reread has revealed more telling detail and rich specifics. Not only do I recognize these people, I feel like they would recognize me. LOL What’s most satisfying, is that when I revisit the book, the subtlety of the relationships seems to shift and refract and change. Stefan and Rand get me every fucking time, but they seem to change tactics, too, while I've been off reading other books. Amazing.

The sex is insanely hot, obviously. That’s a given with this author…but it’s also heartbreaking and visceral and human. Mary Calmes never gives any of her characters hollow “fucktimes” but in this book their escalation of intimacy is architectural and mindful. Calmes uses words and images to assemble kinks and vulnerabilities for both her men (and other characters besides).

Rand is an idealized cowboy and Stefan is an idealized hipster, but in a way the idealization is the point. Above all, this is a book about assumptions, romantic and otherwise. The thing that some reviewers seem to miss is that this book's two gorgeous, charismatic, beloved heroes may LOOK perfect, their appearances create all of the tension and conflict that makes this story so rewarding. Rand and Stef are NOT perfect and grow exponentially over the course of the novel. The story isn’t about a seduction that takes place in one weekend, but rather of a courtship that takes over a decade to complete.

TIMING, indeed.

Moreover, the rich backstory between the lovers makes for some heartrending intimacy. Stef and Rand are anything but generic or bland; how could they be? Each man comes with baggage and pain and a keen sense of time slipping away, of opportunities missed. Their growth is not external or blurb-friendly, but it's unforgettable. Both men are also cranky, blinkered, and hemmed in by their looks. The irony of readers making the same mistakes about these men that they make about each other is not lost on me. Beautiful people rarely find their lives made easier by bone structure and breeding.

Cleverly, Mary Calmes gives herself two intensely charismatic characters and then makes that charisma a source of anguish. Fucking brilliant and impossibly romantic. In one neat dart the book’s heroes can have charmed lives AND can be troubled by those charms. And their weaknesses and expectations reflect their upbringings and the (fabulous) people who populate the pages around them, an organic community that keeps reminding them how charmed they are, for good or ill.

Those minor characters deserve mention as well; each cast member is memorable in voice, appearance, and actions…from the groom’s mis-dressed mother to an uncle who likes his women plump. And each one of those “minor” presences drive the story forward beautifully.

If you read gay romance you should have read this book already. If you haven’t read gay romance before, this book is a fabulous starting point.

A must.