Title ~ Pent Up
Author ~ Damon Suede
Publisher ~ Dreamspinner Press
Published ~ 20th December 2015
Genre ~ Contemporary M/M Romance
PENT UP: Mix business with pleasure and take cover.
Ruben Oso moves to Manhattan to start his life over as a low-rent bodyguard and stumbles into a gig in a swanky Park Avenue penthouse. What begins as executive protection turns personal working for a debonair zillionaire who makes Ruben question everything about himself.
Watching over financial hotshot Andy Bauer puts Ruben in an impossible position. He knows zero about shady trading and his cocky boss lives barricaded in a glass tower with wall-to-wall secrets and hot-and-cold-running paranoia. Can the danger be real? Is Andy for real?
What’s a bullet catcher to do? Ruben knows his emotions are out of control even as he races to untangle a high-priced conspiracy and his crazy feelings before somebody gets dead. If his suspicions are right, Andy will pay a price neither can afford, and Ruben may discover there’s no way to guard a heart.
I must admit I had misgivings when I first started reading “Pent Up”. There’s something dark about it, something claustrophobic, and it wasn’t until halfway through the book that the main characters accepted the fact that they both liked men – or at least each other.
But I couldn’t put it down. There is so much wisdom, so much metaphor, so much sheer beauty amongst the violence, evil, greed and disdain that drives its convoluted plot, that I couldn’t get the book out of my mind. Nor could I ignore some of the positively brilliant writing that kept catching me unaware.
This is the story of two men, men as different from each other as men can be. Andrew (Andy) is a multi-millionaire financial genius ensconced in his high-rent aerie far above the dirt, noise and crowds of New York City. His two-story penthouse is his cocoon, his territory, his hideout from the real world. He’s 39 years old and at the top of his game. He has the power to make or break mere mortals, and he’s occasionally ruthless about exercising it.
Reuben Oso is a broken man trying desperately to remake his life. 41 years old, sober for a year, alone after his wife of 19 years called it quits, no savings, no home, no idea where to go or what to do aside from attending AA meetings and temporarily sleeping on his brother, Charlie’s, couch. Rueben laments his “hit-me” face, a face that often gets him into trouble. He’s strong, thick and muscular, but his crooked, broken nose, his constant look of disapproval, his Columbian-Indian profile and his brown Hispanic skin puts some people off and terrifies others. Unlike Andy, Rueben is not a white-bread pretty boy from the affluent suburbs north of the Bronx.
The book opens with a thief, stolen wallet in hand, fleeing down the street, knocking unwary pedestrians to the sidewalk until he crosses Rueben, who picks the guy up, mid-flight, and flips him over his shoulder. The beautiful Andy, in his four-thousand-dollar suit, is not far behind. The thief gets up and runs off while Andy grabs Reuben to praise and hire him as his bodyguard. Good timing. They’re right in front of the office of Charlie’s security company (a second-floor walkup in a fading neighborhood) where Reuben was headed for his first day on the job his brother offered him. This is a whole new dimension of “meet cute” - nothing cute about it. Perhaps it was Kismet. Whatever it was, it sets the tone for the rest of the book, violence with admiration, secrets, tons of money and the clash of two cultures, the very rich and the barely-getting-by – millionaire and thug.
In “Pent Up”, nothing is as it seems. Reuben senses that something isn’t right. He doesn’t believe that Andy ‘s actually in peril. He may be paranoid. He may be working a game. But he certainly doesn’t need a bodyguard. That is, until he does. Attacked in his plush fortress, Andy insists that Reuben move in with him, full time. Reuben does, but not without misgivings. This most macho of men is having feelings when he’s around Andy, feelings he shouldn’t have. He has come to like his smell, the way the light plays on the soft, almost invisible blond hair on his forearms, the exquisite shelf of perfect ass displayed in his thousand-dollar-slacks, and the almost transparent bathing suit he wears when they swim in the building’s fancy pool.
I don’t need to rehash the plot because, although it’s filled with clever twists and turns, that’s not what “Pent Up” is about. It’s a deep character study of two men who somehow fall in love, despite their differences and the questionable honesty of them both. There are secrets festering, family stuff that’s stirring the waters, the pitiable, vapid minds of the filthy-rich with whom Andy mingles to mine new investors for his hedge fund. They’re surrounded by hypocrisy and guilty of it as well.
And it’s those contrasts that fascinate. They both admit they’re bad men, but somehow they’re bad men who are good men. Reuben is resentful of Andy at the same time that he finds safety, security and affection in that resentment. He is always one drink away from lost days and nights ending in the drunk tank, yet determined never to drink again. He’s very self-aware, but not at all kind to himself. He is his own harshest judge. But somehow, the two men together, deeply into each other despite their determination not to be, caught by the surprise of it all, guilty for it, but not guilty for it, seem to comprise one fully-formed caring human being. Neither would ever acknowledge it, but together, they matter. They truly love each other.
I admire Mr. Suede for his handling of the relationship between the two men. The physical relationship particularly, with each act being both torture and a journey of discovery, doing something so wrong that is so inherently right. There’s no sex for the sake of sex. Although the men are breathtakingly sexy, it’s almost as though there’s no overt attempt to titillate, but to show how their souls grow into acceptance of their burgeoning love. Those scenes are not just hot, they’re beautiful. This is masterful writing. The characters are so intensely rendered and developed that they come to life as three-dimensional, complex, realistic and empathetic human beings jumping off the page into the reader’s heart.
And the writing! Mr. Suede’s dialogue is an exploration of the human state, often more poetry than prose. His descriptions are not just apt, but often lyrical.
Reuben describes the penthouse thus:
“…the gleaming box felt even more claustrophobic and precarious, as if his new boss had trapped him in a coffin balanced on a radio tower.”
When Reuben finally realizes what Andy is beginning to become to him, he knows he needs to tell his brother, Charlie, about what’s happening. He owes him that, but cannot find the words:
“Whatever color shone in Andy had been invisible to him until he finally saw, and no amount of explaining would ever make anyone else understand what felt so obvious now.”
Reuben explaining his sobriety:
“People think getting sober means sitting in a church basement and shame-bragging about all the crazy sh*t you did drunk.” Headshake. “Sober originally meant serious. Looking hard. Thinking about your choices and responsibilities. Standing up instead of lying there.”
This is difficult book. This is also a book of great depth and insight, but Mr. Suede gives nothing up easily. A word, a clever turn of phrase, the occasional unexpected response, all give the reader hints of what’s going on under the surface, of where the men are headed and what they’re running from. This is a book about forces, forces driving men to inevitable fates that can be avoided only if they find the courage and love to change, to escape, to transcend. Ultimately, it’s a book about hope, all artifice stripped away, a book about mature men facing who they are and who they might become if they’re honest with themselves and each other. It’s a book about love.
“Pent Up” is more than a “gay romance”. In fact, I can’t even recognize it in those words. It’s a serious work of art, one that will baffle you, move you, challenge you, force you to plumb the depths of the characters and the circles in which they move. If you’re looking for a light read, this is not it.
But if you’re looking for a superbly-written, profound and profoundly beautiful novel about men learning to love, a brilliant work, then don’t miss “Pent Up”. One of the deepest and most satisfying books I’ve read in a very long time.