There are mid-life crises, and then there are mid-life slumps. James Richards, a gay English professor at a small junior college outside Sacramento, California, has slumped so low at age forty-three that he’s nearly belly dancing with the pavement.
That is until he meets gay Latino, politically incorrect, good guy Rafael Ochoa, whom James thinks of as an underwear model. Then not only does James’ life perk up, but readers will start to grin on their way to laughing out loud.
After his boyfriend leaves him and wipes out their shared bank account, college professor James decamps from Maine and takes the first available teaching job on the Left Coast. There he acquires a Boston terrier that he names Marlowe, after the writer who may have been Shakespeare.
James is in a decided slump and unhappy not so much with life as with himself. But one of his students, an “androgynous Goth chick with dyed blue-black hair” who challenges practically every statement he makes in class, decides she can’t see her favorite teacher so down. When she talks about James to her childhood friend Rafael, the almost thirty-year-old mechanic is intrigued and wants to meet James because as Rafi says, he’s got a “white-boy kink.”
So begins a love affair to rival that of any Shakespearean couple. White bread James is thrown into Rafael’s colorful Latino life, complete with his chubby cousin who refuses to have a Quinceañera because everyone will laugh at her, a fortune-telling grandmother, and homophobic male relatives, including a scowling father.
Despite, or maybe because of, the rollercoaster ride Rafi’s family is, James falls hopelessly in love which means coming to grips with the fact that Rafi is not going to college because he’s perfectly happy working on cars at Jiffy Lube. Fortunately, James’ parents surprise him and see Rafi as the perfect partner for their too-serious son.
Getting from Point A—James and Rafi’s meeting—to Point B—the potential for a very happily ever after—is all fun for the reader.
Disgruntled James, fortunately, proves a happy disgruntled man and wonderful teacher. He’s the guy readers will want to hug and reassure that tomorrow really will be a better day.
The affable, charismatic Rafi exudes Latino confidence and a healthy sense of humor. Nothing is so bad that it can’t be fixed by a ride in his hot car or a beer and a taco in his favorite taqueria. He’s proud of his ability to fix cars just as he’s proud to have a boyfriend with two Masters degrees in literature. On the whole, life is good in Rafi’s eyes, and he doesn’t sweat the small stuff. He’s the friend all of us want and need.
And in between their charming story and the laughs, Lane often gets downright poetic. For example when James is explaining why the fall is his favorite time of year, he thinks, “He spent his life in love with all of autumn’s various ensembles—the decadent, slutty golden sunshine, the pure, virginal blue sky, the dignified tattering cloak of dying leaves….”
The biggest shortcoming of the story is its length. Considering how many serious topics the book covers, including racism, homophobia, women’s rights, and others, Lane doesn’t have enough room to let James and Rafi explore their views and come to conclusions. Instead, these are glossed over to keep the tone light. But in the cases of darker issues, this gloss job just makes an otherwise interesting book often seem shallow.
Still, James and Rafi’s romance is a happy way to spend an afternoon when readers might be a little glum themselves. If nothing else, the antics of Marlowe and Rafi’s relatives should lighten their mood.