Author ~ Nash Summers
Publisher ~ Dreamspinner Press
Published ~ 9th September 2015
Genre ~ Contemporary M/M Romance
Scott Halleck and Julian Reeves are polar opposites in almost every way. Scott, a modern arts curator at a museum in Chicago, relishes the finer things in life. Julian is a strange photographer whose hair color changes as frequently as his mood. As far as Scott can see, Julian is an erratic know-it-all who lives his life one day to the next. To Julian, Scott is an uptight, too-coiffed perfectionist.
As the two men continue to run into each other, their dislike grows, but beneath that animosity, a fire is beginning to spark. Scott is baffled when he realizes he is falling for Julian, a man who burns hotter than a wildfire. Scott will have to decide, for the first time in his life, if he’ll let the flames take over.
Lovers & Fighters is not what I expected. It’s not a big book – bigger than a novella, but on the short side of a full-blown novel. It is a book based on two major characters and a handful of minor ones, a book in which little happens, more a character study than a normally-plotted novel. The form, the dark but stunning characters, the themes, are nothing I’ve encountered before in the thousand-or-so gay novels I’ve read. But I loved it. It moved me in some very deep and unique ways. It is both beautifully written and beautiful.
Nash Summers is a remarkable writer. If Amazon’s Kindle Store is any indication, most of her work, to date, has been short stories and the occasional novella. Lovers & Fighters seems to be one of only two relatively longer-length novels (140-150 pages) .
This is the story of two broken men, though one of them thinks of himself more as incomplete. Two more different people never walked the face of the earth. Scott is the young Modern Arts curator of a prestigious Chicago art museum. Julian is a clerk in a sandwich shop, a surly waiter in a bar, and a dog walker who dresses his dogs in colorful balloons for their daily romps in the park.
Scott is as put-together as anyone could be. Groomed to perfection, carefully, conservatively and tastefully dressed, coiffed in a boring non-style, he is attractive, but sincerely and intentionally plain. Julian, on the other hand, has a different hair color every day, his body is covered with a riot of tattoos and piercings, his clothing, though stylishly ripped and torn, is also tight, revealing and sexy as hell.
Ms. Summers gives her characters the archetypal non-cute meeting. Scott and his gorgeous and equally put-together boyfriend, Ryan, get together for a drink in an unfamiliar restaurant recommended by a friend. To their utter astonishment, their waiter, whose name is Mark, spends his time ridiculing Scott’s shoes and his utter plainness. He then delivers their beers, but they’re two different colors and Scott is so worried about what Julian gave him that he’s too terrified to drink it.
A few days later, Scott’s assistant invites him to a new trendy sandwich shop for lunch. The clerk in the sandwich shop ignores what Scott orders and builds him a grotesque, mile-high sandwich with every meat, vegetable and condiment the store provides - a sandwich that cost almost $25. The clerk’s name tag reads “Aaron”.
The pushy sandwich store clerk, Aaron, is also the nasty waiter, Mark. Scott is stunned that this annoying young man keeps shadowing him. He’s certainly not stalking him, because he seems to be gainfully employed at each of the places Scott runs into him. But it’s all just so weird, and destined to become weirder yet, when he attends a social gathering at his best friends’ house. Darren was his closest friend through college and Lori is the woman he married, a charming, pretty young woman with an easy laugh and a killer smile. Someone knocks at the door and Lori asks someone to please answer it. Scott, feeling uncomfortable, as always, in a social setting, figures answering the door would be a good escape for him from his solitary place, alone in the midst of all those voluble friends and acquaintances. Guess who’s at the door? That same annoying boy, who informs Scott that he’s Lori’s older brother, Julian.
Thus starts the journey of two incomplete, broken, terrified men into a relationship that defies description, but ends up meaning everything to both of them. What they do share, is the knowledge that each of them is pretty messed up, and the other one knows it. Scott has spent his life hiding it, Julian, acting it out with drugs and self-destructive behavior.
Scott’s secret is that he doesn’t feel anything. Nothing. He has learned to mimic social reactions, learned to fake a good smile, learned to be what he is supposed to be, but inside he feels very little – no passion, not even depression, just empty, even with his loving parents who are infinitely patient, understanding and devoted to him. His boyfriend Ryan is perfect - too perfect. He does make Scott feel safe and warm, but there’s no passion between them. Ryan deserves better than that because he’s also a very good man.
Julian’s damage is different. He feels too much, he is too passionate, he is dedicated to punishing himself and getting his “lovers” to punish him as well. Pain and punishment are what make him feel alive. The minute he meets Scott at the bar, that fateful night, he recognized a kindred spirit.
Their path to each other, their path to the possibility of love (that’s all the author, wisely, offers) is long and twisted. It’s no surprise that their communication skills are not the best. But Scott knows that, for the first time, he feels alive. And nothing has terrified him as much as that. Julian, on the other hand, seems to be asking something of Scott, but no matter how Scott responds, no matter how caring, the answer is never right.
It’s a difficult road, full of potholes and detours, but it’s wondrous to watch these men dance around each other, getting in touch with their feelings, but only when apart. When they come together, it’s because it’s the only way they are both alive. They are each other’s greatest fear and only hope.
Nash Summers is a first-rate writer. I was particularly moved by her use of photography as a mode of intimate communication. Julian is a brilliant amateur photographer, technically inept, but stunningly expressive, and his photos turn out to be his personal gifts to Scott, his declarations of love, which ties back to Scott’s own metaphor for himself:
“… my entire life I’d felt like a shade of gray, something muted and dull, just waiting to experience my own Technicolor”.
The author’s prose is, at times, simply exquisite and beautifully evocative, the internal conversations in the characters’ minds often heartbreaking, their fumbling for words that matter, realistic and frustrating. But the two men, despite their issues, are empathetic throughout, and you weep for these men to face up to what they lack, what they need, and how fearful they are that they’ve found both in each other.
This is an unusual, unique and stunning book. I almost gave it four stars for its brevity – I would have liked to read even more of how they got to where they are, but then remembered the tears that welled in my eyes at the end, the beauty of seeing both of them come alive, and the hope that ends this book so beautifully.
This is an author to watch. If you’re looking for something a bit different, but profoundly moving, don’t miss Lovers & Fighters. I recommend it most highly.