Review - "Dawn in the Orchard" by Coooper West
Nice slow build to a satisfying romance
Gary is a professional musician originally from a small town in the South but living in Chicago now. Not much holding him in Chicago - his closeted lover is dating women to make his family happy, he is sleeping on friends' couches, and his career is stalled since he suffers from crippling stage fright. So when his aunt dies and leaves him a farm back in North Carolina, he packs up and moves back home.
Chuck moved back home to North Carolina from Atlanta after college to help out his father. Oldest son, family expectations and needs keep Chuck firmly at home, raising his two children, running his antique store and overseeing the family businesses. And him firmly in the closet. His outlet for fun is playing fiddle at the Thursday night jam sessions at the local bar.
When Chuck and his father pay a call on Gary to make sure the agreement they have with Gary's aunt to harvest the pecans from the orchard on the farm still stands, the chemistry between the two sparks.
There are all sorts of reasons for something between the two men not to work. Family pressures. Small town narrow mindedness. Past failed relationships. Gary's music career in Chicago. Living closeted. Are there enough reasons, then, to try?
These are two men who have real life issues that must be addressed before anything real can develop between them. Gary's uncertainty about his career, then his refocused energy when his muse comes calling again. His fear of performing live. His lingering anger about his ex-partner jerking him in and out of the closet, then his hurt when the man dated a woman to keep his family happy. His ambivalence about staying in North Carolina. And most importantly, his fear Chuck would never acknowledge their relationship in public.
And Chuck. Divorced with two children to raise. A family business for which he has responsibility. A father and family who will not tolerate his being gay. And his unwillingness to step out and be what Gary needs. And have what he really wants.
Being a native Southerner, I can appreciate the sensibilities at play here, and the pressures to remain quiet about any gay relationship. The slow pace of life in the South was captured to a "T". What I appreciated was how Ms. West used our slower pacing to draw out the relationship building between the two men. So many writers have the main characters have an immediate spark which leads them into the bed and then madly in love within the first 20 pages. Not so here - we are treated to a nice slow build.
Perhaps most impressive, to me, was the realistic reactions these two men had to the pressures that wore on them. Anger, both at the circumstances and with each other. Fear, that the fragile bond they were developing would snap because of Chuck's family. Joy, at the connection their music gave them.
And then, love, slowly and gently acknowledged, a quiet surprise for both men. Ms. West used a deft hand here - these are two men I have met and known many times in my life. She got them right, and really, that is the highest best-est thing we can hope for, isn't it? That a writer shows us, as gay men, how we are, not how they think we should be. That takes love, and trust.
It's as sweet as the tea we so love here in the South. Job well done. Bravo, Ms. West.