Reviewed by Ulysses Dietz
Member of The Paranormal Romance Guild Review Team
Other than the clunky title (which, admittedly, says it all), I loved this book. This is a love story, with love’s path made rough by the peculiar circumstances and the idiosyncratic personalities of the two main characters. Classic m/m fiction seems to insist on its central players being somehow messed up, as if a romance without a big mess is less worthy of our admiration.
So be it. The big mess here is both funny and heartbreaking, exacerbated by the cultural and age differences between Valentyn Schevchenko, a Ukrainian ex-pat professor, and Peter Grunberg, a brilliant millennial stuck with a rare anxiety disorder known as selective mutism. Val’s disorders are more prosaic: a gay man brutalized by his own country and forced into exile in order to achieve freedom. He is mistrusting and keeps himself walled up behind carefully constructed emotional barriers. Peter, stuck as a barista in his uncle’s university coffee shop, has a supportive network of people, but is trapped behind his own mind’s hurdles.
Val, to both their surprises, finds accommodating to Peter’s unorthodox needs easy. Moreover, both men are attracted to each other immediately – long before they in fact communicate with each other. The awkwardness comes in because the first words Peter addresses to Val is a proposal of marriage, upon overhearing him discuss with a colleague his need to retain his green card through marriage.
Thus, what we have, is an ass-backwards romance in which the love is there from the start, but in circumstances in which nobody will believe Val and Peter no matter how sincere their feelings are. Val’s reserve and Peter’s anxiety only make things more difficult, and I had to admire Cullinan’s skill and weaving her tortured way through the pitfalls and hurdles to the ending we all wanted from the start.
Gay romance needs to be this good to keep my attention and capture my heart. Every romance is like a landscape – we all know what it looks like, but it is the artist’s skill that makes the familiar content meaningful.