The Grand Ballast

Author: J.A. Rock

Publisher: self

Rating: 4.5 stars

Buy Links: Amazon

Type: Novel

Received from Publisher


Blurb: In a future where live sex shows abound to keep a jaded population entertained, dancer Bode Martin falls for the brilliant and unstable Kilroy Ballast, who molds Bode into the star attraction of his erotic circus, the Grand Ballast. Drugged beyond any real feeling, Bode trades freedom and his once considerable pride for an illusion of tenderness—until he inadvertently rescues a young man from a rival show, and together they flee to an eccentric town in the west where love still means something.

Valen’s not an easy man to know, and Bode shed his romantic notions under Kilroy’s brutal employ. Yet their growing bond becomes a strange and dangerous salvation as they attempt to overthrow the shadows of their pasts and wade together through a world of regret, uncertainty, beauty, and terror.

But Kilroy won’t let Bode go so easily. Long ago, Bode was responsible for the loss of something Kilroy held dear, and he still owes Kilroy a debt. As the three men battle toward a tangled destiny, Bode must decide if his love for Valen is worth fighting for—or if he was and always will be a pawn in the story Kilroy Ballast will never stop telling.

WARNING: Contains violence and noncon. Not a genre romance.


Review: Bode Martin wants to feel and show his story of feeling to other people. Unfortunately most audiences don’t want to see uncomfortable feelings. For a dancer who wants to explore the wide world of emotions this is a problem. Kilroy Ballast sees in Bode a great talent and real beauty. Kilroy is going to take Bode’s talent and show it to the world. Bode falls in love with Kilroy. It’s nice for Bode to finally leave home as he doesn’t understand his parents. They don’t seem to love each other. No one seems to love anyone, but Bode believes he and Kilroy will love each other. Bode remains a dancer after he moves in with Kilroy, but he dislikes the shows that make audiences happy. Bode feels audiences are made happy with mediocrity and wants to show them something amazing. As Bode and his fellow dancers work on something amazing Kilroy begins to spend a lot of time with another man. Bode becomes jealous. It becomes quite a problem. A deadly problem. Kilroy finds he’s able to use Bode’s guilt to get him to star in his new X-Show, The Grand Ballast.

Years of performing and drug use have taken a toll on Bode. He’s becoming aware of his own misery. He’s aware he doesn’t love Kilroy anymore. He’s aware Kilroy won’t let him go. While attending a new X-Show Kilroy feels may become competitive with The Grand Ballast, Bode feels compelled to save a performer meant to drown as the culmination of his act. Kilroy buys the man’s contract. Bode knows he needs to escape Kilroy and now feels he needs to save the new cast member, Valen, in addition to himself and another friend. Only Bode and Valen make it to Harkville. In Harkville they have to figure out how to finally free themselves from Kilroy Ballast.

As much as I want to be like a kid in a candy store and dig into this text to hold in my hands all the wondrous rhetorical devices, I’m going to do my best to just name a couple so as to not spoil the awesome. Normally, I really hate when an author tells me something they’re showing me. Here, I thought it produced interesting results. The Grand Ballast is both a simple coming of age tale as well as a spectacle filled with over the top violence and sex. The violence and sex is what the audience wants. Bode and Kilroy discussed these concepts repeatedly. A spectacle with a simple message, something groundbreaking rooted in nature. The sex and violence aspect of the spectacle was also frequently discussed. It’s what the audience wants. And this story was filled with sex and violence but at the same time it wasn’t. The audience has knowledge of Bode being beaten and raped then we fill in the horror of it all ourselves. Like seeing part of a dog through a fence and our brain supplies the rest of the dog. Again, this concept appears repeatedly. But, my favorite example of show and tell in this book is about Bode’s parents. Bode doesn’t understand their relationship. He can’t see how they love each other. His father sits and knits while his mother plays marbles, each of their hobbies producing clicking sounds. Despite Bode’s lack of understanding his parents click.

Underneath the sex, drugs, and violence of the X-Shows this is a story of Bode growing up. Bode confused obsession with love. He wanted a grand passion. He wanted to be seen and became obsessed with the first person who saw him. Unfortunately for Bode this person manipulated and exploited him. It wasn’t until Bode was able to get out of his dysfunctional relationship with Kilroy that he began to understand the dynamics of a long term relationship. Kindness matters. Balance matters. Bode’s career trajectory mirrored his romantic trajectory. Bode became enraptured by the first business person to recognize his talent and vision. For a creator having a business come along and recognize your talent is great. It can make for smooth sailing, but they can also scrawl their name on all your work and drag you down like dead weight. Bode came to realize Kilroy needed him far more than he needed Kilroy. A show is nothing without its talent. Bode also comes to learn creation and storytelling aren’t about the audience.

That business exploits creators is a major message in this story. That there is a marketplace for creations and some concepts sell better than others is also a major message in this story. These are things I agree with. Consequently, at times I felt a bit like the choir as this story went on talking about unfair treatment of storytellers and audiences afraid to feel something intense. Ironically, it took me a long time to read this book as I was expecting some profound thoughts, and I was protecting myself.

This story can be difficult to read with interwoven timelines and characters that are not only unlikable they are at times horrible, but it’s very compelling. Whereas I certainly wouldn’t classify this story as a romance I do believe the ending was beautiful and showed true and abiding love. In picking this up expect to feel a full palette of profound emotions.

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