Monday, September 24, 2012

Review: Gasp!

Gasp! by Z.A. Maxfield

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I must admit I had a bit of a hard time getting into the story at first, which was mostly due to the way the characters were portrayed in the beginning. The superficial spoiled-brat persona Nigel presented to the world–and to me, the reader–wasn’t very likable. No more than Deirdre, his manager, whose primary purpose in life seemed to cater to Nigel’s every whim, and to sweep the fallout of his shenanigans under the carpet. As she did after Nigel was caught doing something outrageously scandalous–even for him– when she sent him to a remote luxury resort in the mountains for “regrouping”. And since she was just about to have a baby, she more or less shanghaied her brother into watching over Nigel– Jeff, who was supposedly a battle-tested Afghanistan veteran but appeared quite the pushover, unable to assert himself with Nigel and constantly whining about him to Deirdre.

First impressions can be misleading though, which I learned pretty quickly here. Driven to distraction by Nigel’s self-detructive carelessness, Jeff eventually breaks, and quite impressively at that. From then on, the story gripped me and didn’t leave me out of it’s grasp. As the two men were forced together in the involuntary solitude of an (admittedly luxurious) mountain cabin, as they came to know each other, they both revealed layer upon layer about themselves. Like they slowly, gradually fell for each other, I fell for both of them.

Many times when it comes to rockstars in m/m romance, it’s all about the show, the fame, the performance; the characters often strike me as stage props rather than real persons. But not Nigel Gasp. He may have played so many roles that he has a hard time remembering who he really is, he may be just as convincing and comfortable in drag as he is in full rockstar regalia, but he is an actual, real human being under all the glitz and glamour, a man with vulnerabilities and weaknesses, loyal, generous and, when it comes to his music, incredibly focused and professional. In the mountain cabin, we see him working and practicing, and there’s a great scene with Nigel on stage later on.

It’s really Nigel’s musicality that defines him most. He reminded me of the great ones in his genre, the very heroes of my own youth–Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, Freddy Mercury and Brian May, Mick Box, Bernie Shaw, David Gilmore, Roger Waters, Mark Knopfler… Some of them died before their time, others flared high, hot and short like a straw fire almost to the point of exstinguishment. But those of them who survived the blaze came back like phoenixes from the ashes, changed and matured and still brilliant, though now with more of a deep, warming, steady glow. It was where I came to picture Nigel going, this mature yet in no way subdued deeply simmering passion, and I loved his character for both his boundless energy and fierce endurance.

I can only admire how all his endearing character traits subtly and seemingly without effort came into the picture, thoroughly changing my view of Nigel Gasp until by the end, he was one of the most fascinating and winsome characters I’ve ever met.

Jeff, on the other hand, is something of a walking contradiction. A soldier who has a problem with authority. A free spirit who needs structure in his life. He is down-to earth realistic but won’t acknowledge that he suffers from PTSD, drowning his nightmares in alcohol instead. He keeps complaining to Deirdre about Nigel, but he won’t admit to any weaknesses, physical or emotional.
It’s being with Nigel, coming to care for Nigel and being cared for by Nigel that makes the first dents in Jeff’s armor of stubbornness. Coming home from Afghanistan, Jeff was looking for a home, a place to put down roots. He always thought he’d find this place on a map. But falling in love with an unpredictable, restless man teaches him that home doesn’t have to be somewhere, it can be someone.

Parts of this story I enjoyed tremendously, like Nigel’s and Jeff’s slowly opening up to each other. I loved to see them both grow up and mature, and I equally loved that this didn’t just happen because they fell for each other. Jeff’s family, especially his newborn nephew, helped changing their view at the world and each other, and so did the reality of their respective lives once they left the solitude of their mountain cabin. I loved that it wasn’t some stupid misunderstanding, but Jeff’s understandable need for independence that separated them, I loved that they really talked to each other, and I really, really loved Nigel’s diverse personas and the way Jeff reacted to them.
Other parts of the story gave me pause, for example the bear affair (yes, there’s a honest-to-God bear in this story!), or the whole hospital policy thing inclusive of Deirdre’s strange burst of mistrust towards Nigel.

As a whole, this story was a delight to read, romantic, funny and heartwarming without sentimentality, without overwhelming angst and with two very endearing, realistic main characters. I heartily recommend it.

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