Published December 16th 2016 by MLR Press, LLC
Original TitleReconnecting Christmas
SeriesSeeing Me #3
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
Rigoberto “Ringo” Salazar is thirty years old, heads up security for the upscale RV Newport Sands Resort, and owns his own “cookie cutter” home. He is out and part of a large latino family that still loves and accepts him, not caring about his sexuality. The one thing missing from his life? Someone to love and be loved in return. Then he spies young Gavin Lopez playing saxophone for the summer crowd at the picnic tables and Ringo is lost.
Now a year after that first sighting, things have been rocky for Ringo and Gavin. Gavin is insecure, rough around the edges, a commitment phobe with anger management issues. Gavin spends as much time driving Ringo away as he does pulling him in. But Gavin is also “the one” for Ringo. Through constant fights, separations, and hot makeup sessions, Ringo has been there for Gavin, where Gavin has wanted his support or not.
But now things are coming to a head. A recent moment of togetherness, brought on by Gavin’s knee surgery, is shattered when Gavin’s beloved dog Bird runs away and Gavin blames Ringo. While searching for Bird, Ringo comes to a number of realizations about himself and Gavin. Things cannot go on as they have, changes have to be made by Ringo and Gavin for them to have a future together. But Gavin is full of fear and lacks faith in everyone including himself. It will take a miracle not only for Ringo to find Bird but for the men to find it in themselves to change and move forward. But Christmas is a season of miracles and what was lost will find a way to come home, whether it be a dog or an abiding love.
There is nothing typical about Lost and Found by Z.A. Maxfield, other than it is a perfect example of a Z.A. Maxfield story. Part of Riptide Publishing’s Home for the Holidays collection, it is only superficially a “holiday story”. Below such surface expectations of Christmas memories and holiday traditions lurks the all too human characters that I have come to expect from this amazing author. Her characters are full of imperfections, riddled with insecurities, lacking the tools, the social niceties that help others cope with society and the stress of the times. You need to look no further than Gavin Lopez to find the tarnished jewel of this Maxfield story.
I think some people might be put off by Gavin. Or if not Gavin, then’s Ringo’s pursuit of Gavin and a relationship. But Gavin’s character is a gritty, prickly personification of a person so wounded that his first and only impulse when faced with affection and love is to throw up barriers and inflict enough pain and insult as to make that threat to his self isolation go away. And Gavin does a quite thorough job of it in Lost and Found. Towards the man who loves him, Gavin is abusive verbally, sometimes downright cruel. Gavin is childish, sulking and impulsive in his actions. So why do we like him? Because Ringo does. And through Ringo’s eyes, we see beyond the stunted adult into the wounded young artist crying out for help and love.
The story is told in Ringo’s pov. We understand by hearing his thoughts and feeling his emotions that Ringo too carries his share of pain and past injuries both physical and emotional. A vet with PTSD, he has adjusted to civilian life but his memories of his tour of duty lurk on the edges of Ringo’s mind, just waiting to reappear. Ringo has a love of his culture and family but also understands the reality of being an out gay latino in his neighborhood where he is protected not only by his size but by the force of his Uncle Salvo and family. Ringo’s complexities are apparent whether he is dealing with security issues at the RV park or with the emotional turmoil of Gavin himself.
It is a mark of this author’s skill that, just when the reader is getting so exasperated with Gavin’s actions towards Ringo and Ringo’s constant acceptance of the unrelenting rejection that they want to give up on this couple’s romance, she has Ringo understand that a major change in his approach to Gavin must occur in order for him to go forward in his pursuit. This is a much needed shift in attitude, and for some readers eyes long overdue. But again it works to help the reader better understand the men involved and the relationship Ringo is hoping to have with Gavin. One more realistic layer added to an already multilayered story.
Throughout the story, like a line tethering one character to another, is Bird, the chocolate lab who is Gavin’s constant companion and the vessel into which he pours all his love. Tying an endearing pet like Bird to someone who is off-putting and dislikable as Gavin, at least at the beginning, helps to connect the reader to that person. It changes our perception of them instantaneously. For if a dog loves them, then somewhere inside they must be deserving of being loved, a widely held opinion whether it is true or not. The reader will find the hunt for Bird gut wrenching, especially if you are a pet owner. It feels as real as the rest of the story, as does Bird himself.
My only real quibble here is the length. I think Lost and Found would benefit from a longer length, from novella to novel size. The end of the story is as realistic and satisfying as these two complex men could have at the time. I would have loved a little more to the resolution and acceptance, letting the reader revel in the moment a little longer along with the men. T’would have been keeping in the holiday spirit and the miracles that can occur if you want them badly enough. As it is I still loved Lost and Found and recommend it highly no matter the season or holidays you keep.
Cover art by L.C. Chase is just magnificent. One of the best covers of 2013. Perfection in every way from tone, emotion, and character. Just wow.
20% of all proceeds from this title are donated to the Ali Forney Center in New York, whose mission “is to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning (LGBTQ) youth from the harm of homelessness, and to support them in becoming safe and independent as they move from adolescence to adulthood.” To learn more about this charity or to donate directly, please visithttp://www.aliforneycenter.org/.