Reviewed by Ulysses Dietz
Member of the Paranormal Romance Guild Review Team
The gift of the exceptional m/m author is the ability to take the tropes of gay romance and to recast them, thus making the story new. Brandon Witt has given such a gift with “The Imperfection of Swans.”
Kevin Bivanti is 38, and in spite of his success as an advertising executive, he still clings to a dream he’s had since childhood: to open a bridal salon. (OK, no identity crisis here, that’s pretty gay.) Casper James is 33, and he has a dream as well: as the head pastry chef for a glamorous hotel restaurant, he wants to run his own patisserie, specifically to create the most beautiful and delicious wedding cakes ever. (Whoa, that’s pretty gay, too. Already I love these boys.) The inevitability of their getting together to restore a South End brownstone as a shared place of business seems like kismet, doesn’t it?
I like that Kevin and Casper are both small, slender guys (5 foot seven). I like that they’re in their thirties, so they’re actually men, not boys pretending to be men, as is true in so much m/m fiction. I love that Kevin was raised by two moms and has a massive, supportive Italian Boston family around him, which includes other gay couples. I also appreciate that Casper’s conservative, evangelical family in Colorado has not rejected him, but still don’t quite “get” him and his lifestyle. He yearns for a more supportive family, but doesn’t hate his family.
Another facet of this book that breaks the m/m rules is that both Kevin and Casper are in sort of quasi-relationships. Casper is tired of hook-ups, but seems to be stuck on repeat with Brent, a guy he doesn’t really like. He has needs, you know? Totally believable. Kevin is divorced from his husband Scott, who cheated on him, and yet falls back into a relationship with him because, well, his ex is dreamy and he’s THERE. Also believable.
Casper is the struggling pastry chef and Kevin is a highly-paid corporate suit. Kevin has a chic modern apartment, and Casper shares a walk-up with a group of crazy-making music school students. Yet Casper, oddly enough, is the strong one, even if he doesn’t know it. Casper knows his own mind, is confident in his gut instincts, and believes (to a point) in Fate.
Kevin, on the other hand, for all his outward appearance of success, is a mess. He has been fighting demons since middle-school, and in spite of the loving family (because of, perhaps) and all their support of his dream, he is locked into a cycle of self-deception that could become self-destruction.
For a romance story, the trope of the walking wounded is pretty harrowing in this one. Anorexia/bulimia is not a particularly cozy topic, and yet Witt unveils it in such a way as to make the reader understand how it fits into our competitive, success-driven culture, and how even in the happiest of families it can cause heartbreak and misery. “To dream the impossible dream” may be aspirational, but it can also lead to anxiety and despair. Casper and Kevin, are both aware of how they measure up in the face of gayworld’s standards of fitness and beauty. The difference is that Casper shrugs it off, and Kevin lets it become a prison.
I had trouble warming up to Kevin, right up to the end of the book. Even his big gay family didn’t help. They saw what they wanted to see, but they clearly didn’t really see Kevin clearly. It was Casper I loved. It was through Casper’s understanding of Kevin that I finally relented. He taught me to appreciate Kevin. Kevin’s struggle is our struggle. Casper’s strength is our strength. Witt makes us work for our satisfaction in “The Imperfection of Swans.” And that’s OK. That’s what makes it new in the face of all those tropes.