Review: Northern Star by Ethan Day

Rating: 4.25  stars out of 5

Northern StarOn the night before Christmas Eve in a hotel bar at the airport, 27-year old Deacon Miller is getting drunk.  Fleeing a disastrous family holiday he never wanted to attend, Deacon received a text from his boyfriend, breaking up with him and throwing him out of their apartment.  A heavy snowfall cancels his flight leaving Deacon stuck at the airport hotel, drowning his sorrows and regretting almost everything about his life.

Car Dealer Owner Steve Steele has spent most of his 45 years in denial about his sexuality until he just couldn’t face another year repressing his sexuality and his true desires.  Unfortunately coming out also meant hurting people he loved, including his wife and step daughter. Now divorced, Steve is facing his first year anniversary as an out gay man and reflecting back on his failures and current lonely life.

When a chance encounter brings Deacon and Steve together on a night full of self recriminations and doubt, what happens when the one night stand turns into something neither man wants to forget or let go of.

I think when most readers think of Ethan Day, its his humorous stories like the memorable and guffaw inducing Sno Ho series (a favorite of mine) that often spring to mind.  But Ethan Day has another side to him as a writer, the one that produces stories more serious, thoughtful tales like At Piper’s Point and A Token In Time (also favorites).   And while laughter and humor is still an element to be found in each, something larger, more layered in scope is in play there.

Northern Star falls into the second category.  Two men meet on a night when the past is overwhelming them, highlighting the emptiness and failure present in their lives.  Deacon has just received a devastating text from his boyfriend, dumping him in terms crushingly succinct.  He is also being thrown out of their apartment with no where to live and little time to find a place during the holiday season.  It just screams of that aspect of modern day relationships where the use of the text message has become the method of choice for ridding yourself of an unwanted relationship. I don’t know anyone out there that can’t relate to that scene in some measure.

Then Ethan Day brings Steve Steele into the picture.  Steve Steele (I love that name) is also at a place in his life that he never expected to be.  Steve is a divorced, 45 year old car dealer who has finally come out of the closet, exploding his marriage, and family, hurting his wife who he loved and a step daughter who worshiped him.  And although he has found a measure of acceptance within his immediate family and friends, he is himself alone and floundering on his first year anniversary of his coming out.

A snow storm and an airport bar are the means and impetus for the men to meet and fall into bed, presumably just a one night stand.  This is an oft used familiar scene that appears  in multiple media and it works here to bring Deacon and Steele together.  Day perfectly captures Deacon getting his drunk on, his rambling internal monologue both hilarious and sadly recognizable to all who have been in that state sometime in their lives. Here is an excerpt:

“On your tab?” The bartender asked, setting down the freshly made cocktail. “Yup,” Deacon said, smiling slightly when his lips made a faint popping sound, like a cork being violently liberated from a wine bottle.

He did his best to ignore the judgmental expression on the bartender’s face. Glancing down at the name tag, he shook his head, disgusted anyone named Clifford would be casting stones. The pious pity of Cliffy wasn’t what Deacon needed at the moment, and he said as much with the dirty look he offered as a thank you for the drink.

They both turned, hearing a loud group of twenty-something’s come stumbling into the hotel bar. They were all visibly wasted, and from what he could make out from their rather gregarious bitching, they’d each been bumped from their flight as a result of their intoxication.

More rejected casualties, redirected to purgatory via this airport adjacent, cheesy-ass hotel bar that hadn’t been updated since the early nineties.

The burgundy and blue commercial grade fabric was rough to the touch, as if designed to ensure you didn’t make yourself comfortable. That combined with the brass railings that ran along the bar and atop the booths located along the far wall, all the mirrors and glassware dangling from above, the entire room screamed Loser-ville. “And I am right at home with my fellow loser-residents,” he muttered.

Deacon could practically smell the sweaty desperation of yester-year that hung in the air like the scent of stale smoke, from what had no doubt been the scene of many a one-night hookup over the years. Chewing on a chunk of ice, he took a moment to glance around the room at the rest of the poor schlubs.

Then Steve walks into the bar and everything changes.

Steve is an interesting balance for the character of Deacon.  Where Deacon is young and damaged by his upbringing, Steve’s damage is self inflicted.  He denied his sexuality, hiding in a marriage to a best friend’s widow until the truth and the stress made it impossible to continue living in a lie.  It has taken Steve a long time to feel comfortable being gay, but the mistakes he made were real and inflicted pain on those that didn’t deserve it.  Deacon’s pain was due to a alcoholic mother who still continues to put her addiction and selfishness above the needs of her children.  Also a realistic and painfully accurate portrait of the effects of alcoholism on the person afflicted and the family involved.  Added to that is the fact that Deacon’s mother is a pretty self absorbed human being and all the elements are there for extended child abuse and neglect.

One of the aspects of this story that I absolutely appreciated was the absence of instant love.  Instant lust, sure, but love? No, that comes gradually and not without a fight.  Because for every step forward Steve and Deacon take towards an emotionally rewarding relationship, Deacon retreats emotionally and sometimes physically.  The reader’s compassion and empathy for this character is totally engaged as Deacon’s abusive past makes him question his worthiness and capacity to love.

In Northern Star, Ethan Day gives the reader a serious exploration of the journey to love and family by two outwardly disparate men who just happen to be looking for the same thing at this stage in their lives.  For both Steve and Deacon family is important as love and it will be with the help of those families  that will pull them through the events to come.  And yes, there will be plenty of angst driven episodes to arrive as Deacon and Steven work their way through all the emotional and mental obstacles before they can be happy.

There are some wonderful secondary characters here.  Ashley, Deacon’s sister, is a recognizable teenager, with plenty of her own issues at play.  We also meet Steve’s colleagues from work (admirable and funny) as well as his ex wife and step daughter.  I love that her pain from living with Steven’s lies is not glossed over but dealt with in a realistic manner, just beautifully done.

Will every reader love this story? Not if all you are expecting is snappy dialog and snort inducing laughter.  Some of that is present here, it is a Ethan Day story after all.  But this is a more serious story that deals with alcoholism, child neglect and abuse and its long term effects on everyone associated with the alcoholic.  I think  Ethan Day did a great job and gave us a wonderful romance too. Consider this highly recommended.

Cover art by Wilde City Press.  Eye catching and  cute.

Book Details:

ebook, First, 249 pages
Published September 25th 2013 by Wilde City Press
edition languageEnglish

By Scattered Thoughts

At over 50, I am ruled by my terriers, my gardens, and my projects. A knack for grubbing about in the woods, making mud pies, and tending to the injured worms, bugs, and occasional bird and turtle growing up eventually led me to working for the Parks. I was a park Naturalist for over 20 years, and observing Nature and her cycles still occupy my hours. From the arrival of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in the Spring to the first call of the Snow Geese heading south in the Fall, I am entranced by the seasons. For more about me see my bio on my blog.

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