Guest Review: Slam by J.L. Merrow

Slam by J.L. MerrowFormats available: ebook
Genre: Contemporary
Length: 275 pages
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Date Released: April 9, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

Limericks, lies, and puppy-dog eyes…

Jude Biggerstaff is all the way out and loving it—mostly. The Anglo-Japanese university graduate is a carnivore working in a vegan café, an amateur poet with only one man in his life. His dog, Bubbles.

Then there’s “Karate Crumpet”, a man who regularly runs past the café with a martial arts class. Jude can only yearn from afar, until the object of his affection rescues him from muggers. And he learns that not only does this calm, competent hunk of muscle have a name—David—but that he’s gay.

Jude should have known the universe wouldn’t simply let love fall into place. First, David has only one foot out of the closet. Then there’s Jude’s mother, who lies about her age to the point Jude could be mistaken for jailbait.

With a maze of stories to keep straight, a potential stepfather in the picture, ex-boyfriends who keep spoiling his dates with David, and a friend with a dangerous secret, Jude is beginning to wonder if his and David’s lives will ever start to rhyme.

Warnings: Contains a tangled web of little white lies, a smorgasbord of cheesy limericks, a violin called Vanessa, some boots that mean business, and the most adorable little dog ever. Poetry, it’s not…

Guest Review by Cryselle

After that blurb, the question isn’t what happens, it’s how. And it’s fun.

Stream of consciousness barely contained, that’s Jude. He’s flamboyant, funny, and when he bleeds internally, he bandages it with another joke. He’s head over heels for David, but what doesn’t go strange in one way goes strange in another. JL Merrow has “frequently been accused of humor” and this story earns her the shaky finger again, in the best way.

Opposites—Jude looks like Gok Wan, only prettier and gayer, and David’s so butch Jude’s not sure he’s gay—the man hasn’t seen a musical in years, and likes watching football. David’s got reason—he works construction in the management end of the business, but he’s not out at work and doesn’t plan to be any time soon. We don’t have any scenes from his POV, but that’s okay, Jude can rattle along for three.

Emitting limericks at irregular intervals to express his anxiety or frustration, Jude keeps us smiling, even when we’d like to whap him for withholding pertinent information from David. Granted, it seems rational at the time, but it does create a sequence of Big Misunderstandings. I can’t summarize better than this brief sequence, where Jude and David have gone on their first real date. Rescuing Jude from some gay-bashers isn’t exactly social life after all.

He shrugged. “I’ve never really been into gay bars. I’d rather go to a normal pub. Uh, does that come off as a bit homophobic?”

I swallowed my last mouthful of saltimbocca. “Yeah, but I’ll let you off because (a) you’re gorgeous and (b) I think my mouth just had an orgasm.” Dreamily, I put down my fork. “Although on second thoughts, that’s not a great mental picture when you’ve just eaten. We have got to come here again.”

“If you like. I’m still hoping to persuade you to try the raw fish at TTY.”

Oops. That again. I bit my lip. Should I come clean and tell him it was all to do with Stinky Cheese Guy? He’d understand, and then we could have a laugh about it…

I grimaced. Yeah, right. Because it’s always so attractive, finding the guy you’re out with is still hung up on his Evil Ex.

David laughed. “Why do I get the impression I just missed a whole conversation taking place in your head?”

That last sentence—really important.

The supporting characters shore everything up nicely: best gal pal Keisha keeps Jude grounded and provides a sharp foil for his wit, and Mom is a hoot. Mom has a younger boyfriend and a couple of secrets, which slop onto Jude and incidentally demonstrate that he comes by his talent for complications honestly.

In fact, everyone seems to have some way to affect everyone else, and it’s to the author’s credit that this crazy quilt of plot points winds up so neatly. Secrets and confessions fall out of the closet like improperly stored skeletons, and it all winds up as a big AW! in several directions, in spite of the epidemic of foot-in-mouth disease.

The title applies to Jude’s participation in slam poetry fests, where poets recite their work as performance art and are graded by how they affect their audiences. It’s not a huge plot aspect unless it’s needed—this story is more character driven than plot driven, aside from the eventual boy-gets-boy. The limericks are spice rather than meal. I’m very partial to external plot, of which this is rather short: the external elements are subservient to the relationship, and the title theme is nearly invisible for most of the book.

All in all, this is a sweet feel-good-eventually of a story. The Brit flavor is undiluted, not impenetrable to American readers, and is a wonderful antidote to stories where the English charm has been genericized away. If you’re in the mood for flamboyant, funny, British characters and situations, this is the story for you.

Escape rating: B+

Cryselle can regularly be found blogging and reviewing at Cryselle’s Bookshelf.