Lindsay's Reviews > Muscling Through

Muscling Through by J.L. Merrow
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's review
Jan 03, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: m-m, romance, contemporary, cambridge, academic, artist, art
Read from January 02 to 03, 2012 — I own a copy , read count: 1

Having enjoyed Merrow’s earlier novella, Pricks and Pragmatism, I was happy to see another contemporary title from this author. I was a little iffy on the premise but I read the Kindle sample late one night, immediately bought the book and then didn’t sleep until I’d finished it at about 3am. You might say that I enjoyed it.

I wasn’t sure how on earth Merrow would handle the inauspicious meeting described in the summary and indeed, it’s the kind of set-up which could have been awful in less assured hands. Instead it’s funny and sweet, as we watch Larry and Al misunderstand one another at every turn, Larry because he’s petrified of this enormous man and Al because he tends to misunderstand things a lot.

Of course the majority of the book revolves around what a mismatched couple Larry and Al are; the well-heeled Cambridge academic and the uneducated, working class former bouncer. Their relationship baffles or outrages almost everyone they know (though not always for the same reason) and is a bit of a mystery to Al himself, and yet it works.

The novella is narrated by Al, which allows Merrow to portray his differences and strengths in a way that avoids patronizing him. The reader is invited to take Al as Larry does, looking past the things which others use to disregard him to see the good, kind, talented man that he is. Being privy to his internal thoughts allows the reader to see that, while not the brightest of sparks, Al is far from stupid. This is made most explicit in Al’s art, where he only needs a bit of encouragement to excel.

The narration also means that while the reader is aware of Al’s insecurity in his relationship, it is presented in the same matter-of-fact way as everything he feels (“I know it’s just fucking, Larry and me”) and so occupies far less of the narrative than the summary may lead you to believe. And it’s clearly not just fucking, because sex scenes occupy a refreshingly small part of the novella. Where present they are as well-written as the rest of the book but as a reader who is a bit tired of writers detailing every single sexual encounter, I appreciated the fade-to-black too.

Although I hate the term, Muscling Through really is a feel-good story. Any bumps in the road are realistically portrayed, but quickly smoothed over, keeping angst to a minimum. But more than that, Larry and Al are both so lovely, and their relationship so sweet (in the best non-treacly sense) that it was an absolute pleasure to spend time with them.

Review first published at Some Old Story.
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