Author: Santino Hassell
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Rating: 4 stars
Type: Novel in a Series
Received from Publisher
Blurb:A Five Boroughs Story
Raymond Rodriguez’s days of shoving responsibility to the wayside are over. His older brother wants to live with his boyfriend, so Raymond has to get his act together and find a place of his own. But when out-and-proud David Butler offers to be his roommate, Raymond agrees for reasons other than needing a place to crash.
David is Raymond’s opposite in almost every way—he’s Connecticut prim and proper while Raymond is a sarcastic longshoreman from Queens—but their friendship is solid. Their closeness surprises everyone as does their not-so-playful flirtation, since Raymond has always kept his bicurious side a secret.
Once they’re under the same roof, flirting turns physical, and soon their easy camaraderie is in danger of being lost to frustrating sexual tension and the stark cultural differences that set them apart. Now Raymond not only has to commit to his new independence—he has to commit to his feelings for David or risk losing him for good.
Review: This can easily be read as a standalone.
Raymond Rodriguez has to grow up. He’s skated by for so long, but he’s about to skate right into a brick wall. The brick wall is his brother. Raymond can see Mikey needs to move on with his life, move in with his boyfriend, and not have to take care of his little brother any more. Raymond just has to figure out how to tell Mikey he’s lost his job without Mikey freaking out. Seriously, two co-dependent people bouncing guilt off each other is a Rodriguez family conversation. Despite the fact Nunzio and Mikey are not huge fans of David Butler, David and Raymond have become really good friends. Raymond needs a good friend, and David respects the fact Ray isn’t gay and won’t be falling in love with him any time soon. David wishes that weren’t the case, but he’s not going to ruin a good friendship. So David and Ray move in together then Ray drops the bomb he’s been watching gay porn. Experimentation turns to sex which turns to an unacknowledged relationship complete with jealousy. Ray and David have to figure out how to arrive at the place they both desperately want to be.
I don’t like to review books I don’t feel I can give a fair shot. If I know I’m not going to like it what’s the point? I did a lot of hemming and hawing before I picked this book up. I wasn’t a huge fan of Sutphin Boulevard, but I found it very compelling. I disliked Michael in a way that showed good writing as opposed to bad. I wanted to know what happened to Ray, but I didn’t want to write a review full of complaints. I’m happy to say I liked Sunset Park much more than Sutphin Boulevard.
For me this book felt very NA. Or, more appropriately, what would come right after the relationship detailed in an NA book failed spectacularly and everyone had to start again learning from the mistakes they just made. David and Raymond both need to accept they’ve made mistakes and move on from them. Ray started this book spending a lot of his time getting stoned and playing video games. It’s not shocking he lost his job! David had the perfect on paper relationship with Caleb. It’s harder for David to admit perfect on paper is radically different from real life perfect and his relationship with Caleb was an unmitigated disaster. David’s real problem is he can’t just say this to Caleb. There was cheating, it was ugly. Caleb is hurt and angry and not nice in the ways he expresses those emotions. So, despite the fact he’s already functionally in a relationship with Ray, David insists he’s not going to make the same mistakes he made with Caleb. He creates a whole new set of mistakes! David had a lot of trouble moving on from his past mistakes.
I really liked David. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to smack him upside the head, but I really liked him. David is just so earnest and genuinely hurt when things aren’t “right.” Unfortunately for David sometimes it’s not about his hurt and he has no place co-opting that hurt. Ray just wants to live his life. He wants a person at home he loves and a job to go to. Ray doesn’t see the need to announce who he’s having sex with. He never did when that person was a woman, how is it different when that person is a man? But David sees that people have died for the right to be gay. He sees Ray not standing in solidarity and being the out and proud B from QUILTBAG. It takes David a long time to realize Ray wants to live an authentic life with David even if he has no plans to ever march in a Pride Parade. Sometimes people are just private, and it’s not about the closet. Despite David trying to shove Ray into a life that doesn’t fit him, he has these amazingly compassionate moments. David remembering when he first hugged Ray was heartbreaking. David remembering how much he wanted to help Mikey and he couldn’t was heartbreaking. David wants so much to help people and fix things and right wrongs, he just needs to reign himself back in when he turns into a tiny gay steamroller.
I had issues. There are almost always some kind of issues. One of my issues was one of the exact same issues I had with Sutphin Boulevard: I don’t see how there is an exploration of cultures, here. Ray’s socio-economic status and family dysfunction shaped his life far more than his Puerto Rican heritage. Knowing a language, eating the food, and having tattoos do not show me enculturation. Ray is a painfully good example of an adult child of an alcoholic. Remove a few key words from the text, and I wouldn’t be able to tell you anything about his ethnic heritage. For me, that feels like a wasted opportunity. My other big issue is with David’s actions that brought about the big climax in the kitchen (It’s not like that!). David knew Ray’s wishes and wilfully and rudely disregarded them. This allowed the plot to advance. I’m given the choice of believing David totally disrespected the man he loves and ignored one of the few requests Ray ever made of him, or he broke character for the sake of the plot. Both those choices suck.
I’ll be reading the next book in this series. I have hope I’ll continue to like each book more than the previous. The plots of these stories are good, and yes, I have issues with some of the technical aspects of the characterization, but I find myself drawn to these characters and want to know about their lives. I can’t not read the next one.