Title: To Stand Close
Author Name: Faith Ashlin
Publication Date : March 27, 2015
Can love grow and survive for two men on opposite sides of the deepest of chasm—slavery?
In this world one country has cut itself off, and is closed and mysterious to everyone else. What’s the secret it’s hiding? Magic? Monsters? No, just the cruel reality of slavery. But inside its borders life goes on as normal, and it competes with the rest of the world at sport just like everyone else, just to prove that it’s the best.
Nicky accepts that, and is happy in his own small, simple life as a gymnastics coach. He accepts it because he’s never known anything else, but he stays as far away from the brutality of slavery as he can, until he’s given a present he doesn’t want and isn’t allowed to refuse.
As for love? Well, he loves his sport, isn’t that enough?
Reader Advisory: This book contains scenes of slavery.
This is the strangest book I’ve read in a very long time. The premise is of a closed rogue military state not too far from our own countries, where residents enjoy the same language, television and culture as we do. Well, until we get to the slavery part.
This is so much more than a gay romance. It is a story of friendship and devotion. Tere were elements of Atwood and Orwell here, but the author doesn’t focus on social criticism. Instead, she gives us Nicky, a very talented gymnastics coach who is preparing an elite team of women’s gymnasts for the world championships.
And she gives us Michael. An American backpacker turned sex slave who is gifted to Nicky by his atheletes’ grateful mothers.
So. Bizarre. But really well written. The gymnasts and their training regimes are witten in such painstakingly vivid detail we can almost smell the chalk, sweat and leather. Equally vivid is Nicky’s cramped, claustrophobic one bedroom flat. In contrast, the exact details of the country outside Nicky’s flat and the gymnasium remains blurry and grey.
The relationship that develops between Nicky and Michael is awkward and uncomfortable.
The relatioship that develops between Nicky and Michael is awkward and uncomfortable. The way Nicky tries to be a good slave owner gives us so much scope for social comentary. But the men remain real, not symbols.
The central problem of the story is so much more complex than that in most romance writing. If you own someone, how do you ever know if they really love you? Is it right to give love to or desire love from a posession?
I’ve only given this book four stars because I would have liked to see more world building and the ideas presented could have been developed so much further in a longer story. Perhaps a sequel or a prequel will have to assauge my curiosity.
Even if the premise sounds odd, I would recommend reading this book. It was a very good read.
Nicky sighed, the sound and sentiment seeming to come from his gut, his very soul. He shook his head. He was tired, so tired of all the things he couldn’t control. “Look at you,” he said and sank into an armchair. “You’re young, good-looking, confident, intelligent, thoughtful, kind and so far out of my league as to be on another planet.”
“How can you say that? I’m only a bit younger than you, and you’re…beautiful.”
Nicky lifted his chin, his gaze focused on Michael. “I might only be a few years older, but sometimes I feel about a hundred. I’ve had shit happen to me for so long that I must be magnet for the stuff or I deserve it. I’m the gay kid with half a red face, the one that didn’t have the balls to make it as a gymnast. Even my own, sadder still parents didn’t want me, and my government is suspicious of me and treats me like scum. No wonder most people dismiss me as nothing. So from down here, I can’t even see the league you’re in.”
“None of that is true,” Michael said, shaking his head. “None of it.”
“It’s all true. That’s how everyone here sees me,” Nicky said. “I’ve been slapped down so hard and so often that it’s the position I’m forced into, and there’s fuck all I can do about it. But I deal with everything and say a silent, ‘screw you,’ to the world, just…”
He waved a hand around ineffectually. “Just don’t start being nice to me by saying you want sex. I don’t need your pity or anything else. I know who I am, what I am, the ways in which I’m strong, and I don’t want your sympathy.”
When Faith was clearing out her attic many years ago, she found a book she’d written as a ten-year old. On rereading it she realized that it was the love story of two boys. Over the years her fascination with the image of beautiful young men, coiled together as they fell head over heels in love, became a passion for her.
Since that first innocent book – written in purple sparkly pen – she has written many stories, set in varied worlds but always with two men finding their way to happiness.
Nothing much has changed because now she can be found in a daydream, wandering around the supermarkets of London, or sitting in a meeting at work still dreaming up stories.