When Tom Morgan’s ex boyfriend calls up to invite Tom to a party being thrown by the ex and his new lover, the last thing Tom would expect to find at the party would be a new boyfriend and potential love of his life. And that’s because Tom’s life is already full of obstacles and daily stressful situations. Tom Morgan suffers from social anxiety disorder, a social phobia that makes his life almost unbearable. Tom can function fine at his job as an assistant bank manager, but outside of his professional life? Nothing but stress and the trauma of dealing with people at a social level. It has already cost him his last boyfriend and even the thought of trying to date someone new makes him start to panic and hyperventilate. So far the only being to put up with Tom on a long term basis is his Chihuahua, Pedro and on some days that becomes iffy too.
Then Tom meets Frank Wells, the brother of his ex’s new boyfriend and the sparks fly to the amazement of both men. It turns out that Frank Wells is a fellow sufferer of SAD as well. Even a first meeting where neither man can bring himself to talk for over 10 minutes takes away from the instant attraction that they feel for each other. Frank is fresh off of his family’s farm and came to the city expecting to stay with his brother. When circumstances (and a nasty brother) make that impossible, then the improbable happens and he ends up at Tom’s house where attraction burgeons into friendship and finally into love.
When Frank’s father calls him back to the farm because of an emergency, Tom accompanies Frank and what follows is hilarious tale as a phobic city boy tries to adjust to life on the farm and murderous chickens to boot. And there are further adjustments and complications that are pile up, one after the other. Can two men with whopping cases of social anxiety, make their new love affair work when all around them seems to conspire against them, even the pig? Only time and Pedro the Chihuahua will tell.
This is the second book I have read by John Inman and already I have learned several things about this author from his stories. He loves hairy men, writes main characters with a unique, sometimes overpoweringly quirky point of view, and filters serious issues through a humorous lens. One of Loving Hector‘s main characters, Hector in fact, was a victim of domestic violence. In Shy, both of the main characters suffer from social anxiety disorder, a social phobia that effects over 19 million Americans to date and is the third mosts common mental disorder in the US. In Shy, John Inman gives the reader a first hand look, through the eyes of Tom and Frank, on how this phobia affects the sufferers daily lives, their outlook on the people around them, even the depression and OCD that is linked to this mental disorder. But I will let Tom tell you in his words:
But then, out of nowhere, came a tingle of warning. Just a glimmer of trepidation at first, like a warning shot fired across the bow, followed by a distant spark of harsh light, growing brighter by the second. Then there it was, that old familiar lightning bolt. It smashed into my gut and quickly turned all those rosy hopes of having a good time at Jerry’s little get-together into a twisted pile of rubble smoldering at my feet. Mental thunder rumbled in the back of my head like an F5 tornado gathering on the horizon. A sudden fluttering in my upper colon made me blink. A sheen of perspiration gathered at my hairline. One right after the other, all the usual symptomatic suspects converged on me en masse. Nausea. Tingling fingertips. Cold toes. Knocking knees. Thumping heart.
Aw geez, I thought. Here we go again. And the party was still two days away!
Like a trumpeting elephant stomping through the apartment, tossing furniture and smashing everything in its path, the fear was impossible to ignore. In a matter of five seconds, I went from vague unease to sheer, unmitigated terror.
I couldn’t go to this party. I couldn’t. But how the hell was I going to get out of it? Jerry would be hurt. And even worse than that, his lover would be ecstatic. Of course, he would be even more ecstatic if I actually showed up, had a panic attack, went into convulsions in front of everybody, then threw up on the cat. God, I hate people.
Well, no I don’t. I hate me. No, that’s not right either. I just hate me and people thrown together. Yeah, that’s it.
That’s it exactly.
Yes, that is it exactly and John Inman gets it perfectly. You can almost feel Tom’s heartbeat start to race as just the thought of going to his ex boyfriend’s party becomes a destabilizing event. Inman demonstrates his knowledge of the effects of social anxiety disorder on the person affected yet still manages to find the humor in the situation as well. Inman’s treatment of this mental disease is sensitive, accurate, and also very funny. I kept waiting for him to take it over the top but Inman never did, at least with the anxiety disorder portion of the story. I can’t quite say the same about other aspects, more on that later.
The author’s characterizations (and hilariously written situations) are the best reasons to read this story. It’s not just the main characters who are beautifully written, but the surprising gems of secondary characters as well. My favorites? Joe Wells, Frank’s father and Simon Simmons, the undertaker. Both men could have easily slid into caricatures but instead Inman created men of exceptional heart, bravery and depth. Trust me when I say, Simon Simmons is really going to surprise the heck out of you. Everyone you will meet within this book comes across as a complete human being, some lovely, some nasty, and as I said some utterly remarkable.
However, for some readers it might be tough going for the first third of the book. That’s because Tom is also preoccupied with poop. Dog poop primarily as his Chihuahua, Pedro, is not house trained . Pedro urinates and defecates everywhere, and the reader is there for every pile deposited and cleanup required. And that gets tiresome very quickly. There is only so much 9 year old boy humor that I can take and the author almost pushes it too far at the beginning of the story. That is a shame because I am sure some readers put the book down too soon because of this issue. But wade through this section and the reward will be waiting for you. There are some hilarious moments while Tom and Frank are still in the city but the charm really sets in as does the emotional heart of the story once the location switches to the farm and the events that happen thereafter. Yes, there are aspects where high hilarity reign, but more often, it’s the growth of a special relationship, the deep bond between a father and son, and the adjustments that you make when you find the one person to spend the rest of your life with. This is where the book and the author shine. This is part of Shy that will stay with you after you have finished the last sentence and said your goodbyes to Tom, Frank, and Pedro. I really loved this book and thought that the characters of Tom and Frank gave me insight into the lives of those affected with social anxiety disorder.
So pick this book up. If potty humor is not your thing, wade through the beginning sections to the rest of the story. If potty humor is your thing, you are going to love the opening chapters of Shy and then adore the rest. Either way, it’s a wonderful journey. You won’t want to miss out. Go get the book! Go on, and then let me know what you thought.
Cover art by Paul Richmond is hilarious and perfect for the characters and story within.