Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
You know that line from the old poem, “when she was good, she was very very good, and when she was bad, she was horrid”? I think that expresses my thoughts about this book perfectly, and that made it very hard to rate. The first 80% was shallow and boring – at least the characters were – and then it got very intense, very fast, and made me think about recent real world events in a much deeper and more personal way than I ever had before. I was glad I finished the book, but have to admit that if I wasn’t reading for a review, I would have quit very early on.
The story is told from multiple points of view, from each of a very close group of friends who regularly party together at (and in the case of Brandon and Aaron, work at) the club Wonderland. This is the third book in a series, and though I did not read the first two, it clearly works as a stand-alone. Two couples – Jesse and Colton, and Steve and Alex – bartender Brandon, drag queen Aaron, club owner Chess, and a few other side characters each speak in chapters (fortunately titled by character so you can keep track of who’s speaking, which would otherwise be difficult) in a roughly chronological narrative. At first, it seems to be random musings of good-looking, oversexed, shallow, alcoholic party boys, and I was completely turned off. I couldn’t even say it was porn with plot, because there is minimal explicit sex, and there didn’t seem to be much plot.
The basis of the book is that Wonderland, the iconic gay club of River City that was founded by Chess and his partner Jack a generation ago in the early 90s, is finally closing its doors. There are only 4 weeks, 4 final Saturdays, before this landmark of the gayborhood (a term used very frequently that to me is like nails on a chalkboard) will be no more. It is the end of an era, and for this group of friends, it almost seems like the end of their lifestyle – because where else will they get blackout drunk and pick up random gorgeous guys to fuck? It caused the men to examine not only the current way they were living, but also to realize that they really didn’t have any particular plans for the future, and that maybe they should, and maybe there was more to life than the next shot of tequila or the next hot threesome.
The only character that I really connected with was Chess. The decision to close Wonderland was a difficult one for him – he reflected on what the world was like for gays and lesbians when they first opened, when a gay dance club was a safe place for them to gather and be themselves. When society was more homophobic, when AIDS was the “gay plague”, when nothing about being gay was mainstream. How ironic it was that as society became more accepting, that places like Wonderland were becoming unnecessary and irrelevant. That the dream of acceptance that his generation fought for was beginning to come true, but diminished the importance and meaning of his club, his baby. I found that whole discussion quite poignant, and resonant.
There is no way to discuss the events that changed how I felt about the book without giving extensive spoilers, so I won’t do that. Suffice to say, circumstances shocked these shallow party boys into something a little more mature. The way they experienced the suffering and pain of those events redeemed them to some extent for me, but I found myself again not really connecting to them, but to the collective emotion of the situation.
I can’t wholeheartedly recommend the book, but it had its moments. Not enough that I would go back and read the first two in the series though….
Cover art: Alexandria Corza. It’s eye catching, yet retains enough dark elements that run through the novel.
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Kindle Edition, 334 pages
Published August 4th 2019