Title: In the Middle of Somewhere
Author: Roan Parrish
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Contemporary M/M Romance
Release Date: 10/07/2015
Skimming over the blurb of Roan Parrish’s debut novel In the Middle of Somewhere I instantaneously realised it was not going to be my usual read. The reasons behind my reaching for this book are threefold. Firstly, Roan is hilarious on Facebook. One could say she lured me in with her witty posts (well played, Roan). Secondly, her book came highly recommended to me by some authors, whose opinion I value. Finally, because I won her book in a Dreamspinner Press competition. It is such an extremely rare occurrence for me to win anything that – had I not read every single word of it – I would have been certainly damned to all hell for disrespecting my winnings.
There are many valid points why I shouldn’t have liked this novel. It is, on the whole, a sweet, positive and heart-warming tale, while I normally wallow in violently dark, gritty and hopeless literary avenues. It is predominantly written in the ‘first person’ with present tense narration, which is a particular pet peeve of mine and usually gives me a migraine. It is a classically romantic love story with little angst and drama, whereas I prefer my romances very un-romantic, fraught with obstacles and babbling with gut-wrenching turbulence.
Yet surprisingly and against all logic, all those factors mattered very little and the story quickly grew on me. About 10 pages in, I was hooked.
The characters are well rounded, multi-layered and real, with decent convincing back stories. They constitute the main strength of this book.
Daniel, the narrator of the story, a sharp-witted academic teacher from Philadelphia with a blue-collar background, is edgy, sarcastic, slightly neurotic and simultaneously tough and insecure. Guarded, jumpy, emotionally crippled Daniel is a self-sufficient loner, terrified of intimacy and a stranger to affectionateness, until Rex comes along.
Rex is the Gentle Giant type – shy, kind and patient. This sexy carpenter with massive warm hands and a tragic past, living alone in a pine and cedar scented cabin in a small town in Michigan is somewhat withdrawn but calm and confident in a crisis.
I loved how the relationship between Daniel and Rex is marked not only by a powerful instantaneous physical attraction but also deep emotional connection, vast amount of tenderness and, after a while, a strong sense of companionship and mutual trust. Daniel’s words: “I’m scattered until the moment I see him and when he touches me I fly back together in a configuration that makes sense” show how perfectly both men complement each other, neutralising each other’s fears and anxieties. Moreover, the sex between them is sweetly hot and intense.
The book also contains an array of wonderfully written secondary characters, like a hyperactive, bright teenager Leo and snarky hipster Will. However it is Ginger, who literally takes the biscuit (sorry, couldn’t help myself). Everyone needs a hilarious, bold, straight talking Ginger, with no-nonsense attitude in their lives. Her bond with Daniel is special and pre-Rex she is the only person Daniel is himself around, dropping the phony act and shedding the protective shields.
Other strong points of the novel are naturally flowing dialogue and some good humour. A specialist term ‘assholism’ has been already successfully incorporated into my everyday vocabulary.
The book is enriched by a variety of cinematic and literary references. Cooking seems to be an integral part of the story. There’s a lot of emphasis on the sense of smell, which gives the reading perception another dimension. The value of working creatively with one’s hands also appears to be an important theme.
As for the criticism, I must mention some editing issues that should have been picked up and ironed out before publication. The repetitiveness of certain words and over usage of particular phrases can be irritating at times. I myself had no problem with Daniels’s nervous ramblings and the repetitions featuring in his internal monologues didn’t bother me, because they fitted well with his personality and emphasised the neurotic qualities of the character, his social awkwardness and self-consciousness. They were also quite amusing, to a large extend. However, that might be an issue for other readers.
Additionally, I would have preferred an ordinary past tense narrative throughout, instead of this slightly peculiar combination of both present and past tenses, which was messing with my head a little on occasion.
To sum up, I liked this book a lot. It left me pleasantly basking in the literary “feel good” afterglow for a while. I am far from claiming that this novel is all sweetness and light; there is a fair amount of grief, loss, regret, abandonment and sadness lurking in the characters’ pasts after all. However, the overall vibe the reader emerges with at the other end of their reading journey, is one of hope and warmth. In my eyes, it constitutes a compelling debut. I award In the Middle of Somewhere a rating of 4 out of 5. I understand that Roan is planning on writing two additional installments to the series – one featuring Will and Leo’s story and one containing Colin’s tale (who definitely sparked my interest), and I will be undoubtedly one-clicking both of those novels.