I had high hopes for J.L. Merrow's Pricks and Pragmatism since it's been in the Top 10 on Kindle in Gay Fiction for some time now. Interesting title. Hot cover. Unfortunately, that's about all it has going for it. The story is told only from the point of view of Luke, a young lad who is trying to finish his degree and needs a place to stay.
He's hopped from flat to flat, usually ending up as his roomie's plaything along the way to pay the rent, until he finally ends up staying with Russell. Russell is shy, introverted, scruffy, and a virgin, and Luke just can't seem to get through to him. It's the classic tale of the outsider looking in or the protagonist falling for the last person he expected - trite and predictable, yes. Each has their own flaws, and thinks poorly of the other, but neither confess the truth to one another.
Unfortunately, the only characters we meet besides Russell are all gay stereotypes. They are snobs with nice bodies, lots of money, and huge sexual appetites. Even Luke is good looking and horny all the time, although he isn't getting any from Russell. But the cast of characters are extremely minor, and we only get a taste of them coming or going.
Most of our attention is focused through Luke's mind as he studies hard to graduate, does push ups naked to try to get Russell's attention, or cooks for them. Luke is one of those twenty-something gay males who thinks he knows everything about life - full of confidence - who dances with his shirt off and hooks up with random guys in public bathrooms. In fact, the first sex scene which doesn't take place until half way through the story is Luke and an Asian having a tepid encounter in a bathroom stall. Even the sex, which could have saved this story, is mediocre at best!
The story and its characters are extremely flat. "We went here. I was thinking about this. I did this. Russell did that." The reader is left to put the pieces of the emotional puzzle together by themselves. We never get the intensity we want from Russell and Luke - despite a few small arguments - although we know it is there. It's like building two beautiful sand castles on the beach and then just walking away from them because we already know what's going to happen. We never get to see the imagery or dramas taking place on the inside.
The author teases the reader with other little dramas such as Luke's estranged relationship with his father, Luke trying to become a journalist, and some of Luke's previous love interests, but Merrow just barely scratches the surface in an attempt to get back to Russell and Luke being together, but the reader is left driveling through the dry narratives to get to the good stuff. And sadly, there's isn't much of the good stuff.
Merrow can write narrative and dialogue, that's a given, but can't seem to get through to the characters or the readers with the emotion and drama that could really connect everything in the end. It's as boring as a bad song on a juke box in a gay bar on a Tuesday night. No one is there. No one is listening. And for those who are, it's a sad situation. The only thing Merrow stays true to is the stereotypes - bland, boring, and conceited homosexuals - we all know the types and I think that's why this story is so frustrating. Real readers just don't connect with those characters. With a bit more feeling, and possibly even the point of view changed to Russell, this story would have worked out nicely.