Torn: Creeping on the Down Low

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I went into this expecting something entirely different. The blurb talks about someone hiding his own sexuality and through another human learns to embrace it. That is literally what I came into it for. And, seeing as it is only 50 or so pages long it was the only thing I thought would be in here. That isn’t exactly what happened.

Before I even dig into that the first chapter starts talking about how Brandon never felt so alive as he did wating for someone to come through the door. This made me think that there was either an undercover relationship going on or that the story was starting after the awakening and Brandon was out. However later on he and Kyle meet in a parking lot and Kyle goes up to the room first. The other issue here is that the first sentence starts off at present-day scene but the entire first page is a deep dive into catfishing and then after that a somewhat more passible section about blaming his absent father for his desires towards men. None of this does much to explain why the first sentence is there and even more frustrating is that when we finally get to said scene he isn’t waiting for someone to come through the door.

The second chapter talks about after high school and college but mostly about having sex with women to feel more masculine and one of the guys, which I totally understand. It’s taking away page time though. All this take on masculinity and upbringing could’ve been squashed into a much more compact intro without the opening sentence (it’s actually the first sentence of the second paragraph. I realised this after I did the vlog. It stays though lol) and gotten to the meeting someone online part faster. The blurb clearly states another man awakens him to acceptance and all this introspection is just taking up page time that could be used to do just that. It is after all what the blurb promised and what I’m actually here for.

Everything changed when Brandon meets Kyle. So he says. He talks about him and how he helped him see things differently. Religion is mentioned a bit but it then suddenly jumps out of this into how watching porn triggered him to put up an online ad. Again with so few pages it would’ve made more sense to skip all the explanation and shoot straight to the online ad. If Kyle has said this that and the other why is Brandon telling us this? Showing this to readers when he responds to the add instead of telling us Kyle has said or done something would’ve been more effective in setting the tone for how he helps Brandon accept himself. There’s a lot, even for first-person and in a short book, of tell and not show which takes away all the page time that could’ve been spent delivering on the self-actulising aspect promised in the blurb.

All of the ‘tell’ gave this book preachy vibes or more accurately overexplanatory vibes that having a dialogue between him and Kyle would’ve explained much more effectively. Instead Brandon talks about a conversation. Says this conversation made him cry and then the author dips into the very end of the conversation which is the only part the readers get. Again, all that talk about the talk could’ve actually been replaced with the talk leading up to the tiny bit of the conversation we are given thus making Brandon’s first real cry more connected to the readers.

Also he’s saying one week ago this call happened, which takes me back to the first sentence of the story. So he’s waiting for someone and he’s never felt so alive. Mkay. But who? Where is he and if his first foray into same-sex love happened only a week ago, was it really that easy to come to terms with his sexuality? What is the setting so readers know where he’s talking to them from now.

One week is a really short timeline considering he made it to 30 without ever once acting on his desires. I’m actually expecting him to only feel safe with Kyle before being brave enough to venture into other DL hookups. Knowing firsthand the type of religious and cultural barriers that would have to fall even to simply embrace a DL existence I’d have expected it to take weeks of texting and phone calls with Kyle to finally break down those walls. But here we are crying and then immediately calling each other attractive and planning a meet and I have zero clue how long they have been chatting because there is no real timeline. The only time reference I have is this one incident of a week previously when this phone call and hook-up happened.

When they do meet there isn’t enough apprehension. Enough this is the first time for me. Enough oh fuck what am I doing I shouldn’t be here. There’s a big difference between ‘I know I’m gay and let’s do this’, and ‘I have a lot of baggage still but I’m ‘ready’. Something about it even though Brandon was saying it like it was the first time felt very not the first time. Even the way Kyle talked to him felt like he wasn’t talking to someone who is terrified at the thought of liking men and spent his college years actively trying to be straight and carried that on right into his early adulthood. None of the barriers Kyle would’ve had to break down to get to this point carry into the adult scenes.

It slipped into fantasy way to fast. The book went from ignoring feelings and trying to be part of ‘the boys’ to waiting his entire life for his sexual awakening to happen. It’s hard to believe someone angry and somewhat self-loathing about his sexuality would be saying things like ‘is that all you got daddy’. I also found the nipple thing odd. Anyone who has watched enough porn knows full well a woman will put her mouth any and everywhere. The idea that sucking nipples is odd, for reference I’m forty now, wasn’t odd to me back in my teens when I first started watching ‘soft porn’ on primetime TV. This book was published in 2017 so only 5 years ago. I dunno but it gives the impression the only part of a male body a woman touches is his penis which is odd to me. Even the books I read back then talked of women making their way down from a man’s chest to the ‘trail of hair’ on his stomach and so on and so forth. I’m going to have to chuck this up to life experience because I def saw this happen so didn’t have to be told it was a thing. Maybe I was just the only curious teen boy staying up when I shouldn’t be, watching stuff I shouldn’t be watching even though I shared a room so they could catch glimpses of what I might be watching, after midnight lol. Oh the anxiety lol. Unrelated but I pretty much have almost crippling anxiety sometimes, so this certainly didn’t help lol.

But nipple sensitivity aside. My biggest gripe with the whole first-time sex thing is that it read too much like experienced sex. And, like most of the book, there’s a lot of talking about how things feel, how they weren’t supposed to feel, explanations on how things relate to the DL lifestyle and so on. So much so that the book can’t even be called erotica because there’s a lot of tell and talk about what’s happening and only brief moments of it happening. So the second half of the book is all about the first sexual encounter and nothing else.

Ultimately the journey of Brandon meeting someone online, having his belief system shattered, and coming to terms with his sexuality doesn’t happen. Kyle and Brandon don’t talk to each other or spend enough time together for this to happen. Every chapter leading up to the first meet could’ve done this without them even having to have sex and then the sex act could’ve happened in one chapter and allowed the final few for Brandon to deal with the aftermath of what he did. There was so much explanation of things that the promised idea of him learning to love himself never gets fulfilled. There’s just explanation, sex that feels more seasoned even though it’s explained like it isn’t supposed to be, and not enough time with the characters together even if only via phone. This book had shitloads of potential to really dig into a man becoming undone and journeying into his own, but it used the page time to circle around that and just wasn’t long enough to make it happen.

If every page time was milked with the two main characters texting or talking on the phone allowing readers to see how Brandon slowly comes to a place of self-love this story would’ve been five stars easy. As it is we are just supposed to believe that Kyle was his catalyst without seeing it, and also that one sexual encounter changed everything. I actually had to go back and reread a 50-page book to be sure I didn’t miss anything because I skimmed through something this short.

This story didn’t live up to guilty steam pleasure expectations nor did it live up to the description in the blurb that was promised. It just ended up being something I skimmed through quickly because it was too short to quit. I definitely expected more punch since it was a short story and, if it wasn’t going to have that punch it definitely would’ve benefited from being longer so the author could really dig into some character development. It just wasn’t for me.

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