Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Review: The Hand-me-down
The Hand-me-down by Zahra Owens
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Workaholic businessman and occasional Leatherman Jez gets stuck in Spain due to his plane being grounded thanks to the eruption of an Icelandic vulcano. For lack of anything better to do, he pays a call on his old friend and occasional lover, former porn star Nick who has gone into retirement in a villa near Barcelona. This is where Jez learns Nick is married, to incredibly shy and reclusive Jamie. Jez also learns that Nick is fatally ill--and that Nick plans to entrust him with caring for Jamie once he'll be gone.
Jamie is so shy he can't even speak to strangers. Events of his past have left him quite unable to cope with life on his own; he needs guidance in many regards, and he desperately needs something or someone to give him structure (this might sound like a classic D/s setup but it's not, not at all--Jamie isn't some submissive boy, but a grown man, deeply damaged by life, and neither Jez nor Nick are actual Doms)
Jez goes from incredulous to refusing to resigned to accepting over the course of Nick's last weeks on earth, not least because he learns quite a surprising lot about himself by watching Nick and Jamie together. But taking responsibility for another person, let alone someone so dependent as Jamie, was never something that fit into Jez's busy lifestyle. Once he finds himself actually in charge of Jamie, he's out of his depth. Only when Jamie suffers through a deeply self-destructive episode, Jez realizes what caring for someone else really entails. But he does care for Jamie, a lot more than he thought he would. And it's not only Jamie who gets something out of the equation; suddenly Jez has someone he wants to come home to, someone who brings constancy into his unsettled life. Jamie and Jez may have fallen into each other's laps, but neither of them will let the other go ever again.
Jamie was a fascinating character. He was a modern day Kaspar Hauser all grown up, with all the implications of the "wild child" premise executed to perfection. As for me, his character was totally consistent, everything he did well founded in Jamie's own strange logic, and I loved so much watching him find his feet in life. I also loved very much that this story refrained from turning into a D/s setting, even though outwardly Jez was the dominant part and Jamie the dependent one. But in reality, Jez turned out to need Jamie just as much as Jamie needed him. In fact, they raised each other, grew mutually and grew together. In the end, they were fully equal partners, no small feat to achieve with a story that started out on such an imbalance of powers as theirs did. Beautifully, masterfully done.
I'd only read one story of this author a few years ago, Diplomacy, which I found nice but quite unexciting. I was baffled with how much both the writing and the storytelling had matured since then. Pulling off this story, making it believable, making the characters come alive on the pages despite their almost incredible backstories was, I'm repeating myself, no small feat and deeply impressive.
My only little niggle here was with Kee, Jez's best female friend, who acted a bit too much like a benevolent genie in a bottle (completely with vanishing into thin air once the crisis was overcome) and with the fact how easily everything fell into place for Jamie and Jez by the end. Then again, they've both won my heart and I was far from begrudging them their hard-won happiness.
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