Reviewed by Nick Thiwerspoon
Dreamspinner Press, 2013, 270 pp.
Dale moves to a small seaside town in California, having been thrown out of home by his parents because he’s gay. It’s the early sixties. He gets a job in a restaurant and there he meets Reynaldo when he comes in for a meal. It’s a small town, and they meet again. The attraction is mutual. The first few chapters of the novel, where they meet and fall in love, are beautifully done: moving, satisfying and sexy.
Since this is California not Ohio, even though being gay isn’t widely accepted, provided there are no overt demonstrations of affection or lust, gays are tolerated. Reynaldo’s mother, Doña Ysabel, matriarch of the Mexican family which founded the town a century before, does more than that. She accepts that Reynaldo is gay, and wants him to be happy, and is convinced that Dale would be just right for him. Perhaps her acceptance has been made easier by her brother, Reynaldo’s uncle Tío Germán, who is also gay. Whatever the reason, when Dale and Reynaldo connect, her first concern is whether Dale will make her son happy, being a gringo and all. She teases Dale when she meets him dressed in Reynaldo’s dressing gown early in the morning at Reynaldo’s house, knowing full well where he has spent the night.
Reynaldo’s first concern, though, is that Dale is half his age, just 19 to his own 38, and he’s afraid that the age gap will prevent Dale loving him. But Dale doesn’t care about Reynaldo’s age. All he knows is that he’s found the man he loves. Dale knows nothing about gay culture or the “gay lifestyle”. He cares only about Reynaldo. But Reynaldo is more cynical and more circumspect and in the end this leads to a developing coolness between the two men. This section of the novel is gripping. The author has so cleverly made both Dale and Reynaldo matter to us that we cannot bear it that they quarrel. And it’s entirely right when in the end they make up, with Doña Ysabel’s and her brother, Reynaldo’s gay uncle Tío Germán’s blessing and connivance.
It’s interesting to observe the various historical oddities. For example, it’s a time when $1000 is a large sum (you could buy a car for much less than that, then). A time when 5¢ an hour more in his wages meant that Dale can afford a small flat instead of having to stay in a boarding house. A time when ordinary people could earn a decent living working. A time when California was the land of opportunity. A time, before AIDS, when you didn’t wear a condom and used Vaseline as lube.
The writing is classic Matt Brooks—smooth, polished, urbane and entirely satisfying. The sex scenes between the two men are erotic, sensual, and beautifully written, as well as being romantic and loving.
Matt Brooks has been a contributor to Wilde Oats from our very first issue, back in 2009. This is his first novel. His short stories in Wilde Oats have an oddly magical and benign aura about them, without being in any way sugary or saccharine. It is not a benevolence based on an unawareness of the hard things of life and love, but its opposite. Some authors, no matter how well they write, are displeasing because their own character shows through the writing and spoils it. Honeymoon Cottage bears out the promise of the short stories we’ve published. It’s like a fine Sauternes, sweet but entirely sophisticated. Lovely.