Emma Sea's Reviews > First You Fall

First You Fall by Scott  Sherman
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Mar 10, 2012

did not like it
bookshelves: mystery, rent-boy, law-enforcement
Read in March, 2012

If you put Dani Alexander and Josh Lanyon into a blender, and added half a jigger of Mary Calmes and a dash of a fourth ingredient (which I'll come to in a minute) you'd have First You Fall.

Our MC Kevin is a mildly witty and ironic high-end rent boy with a heart of gold, who has never gotten over his first love, neighbour boy Tony the Italian Stallion - now a cop. There's a camp, sassy best friend. There's a death, which Kevin is sure is murder, and Tony is sure is suicide. There's a cast of suspects.

There's sexual shennanigans between Tony and Kevin, despite the fact Tony "decided" not to be gay and broke young Kevin's heart.

All of this is handled quite deftly. The tales of each of Kevin's clients are amusing, and function extremely well as a narrative device to keep the pace rolling along swiftly when not much is happening on the mystery front.

The relationships between the different characters are written well, although Kevin's mother is disappointing as a character, being a one-dimensional sterotype.

I was also disappointed with Sherman's description of one secondary character as "...a drag queen. Or a transvestite. I'm not sure which." In fact, the character is pretty clearly written as a transwoman, not a cross dresser or a drag queen (all three are different). This lack of distinction seemed kind of rude and dismissive to transpeople. (EDIT 06/2012: another reviewer makes a really valid point that this is character voice, and it is unreasonable of me—to say the least—to criticise this as being rude and dismissive. I'm pretty sure my attitude was coloured by my annoyances with a different aspect of the book, and I shouldn't have picked on this. There is no issue here, and I was wrong.)

The book fell apart for me at the very end. The denouement was bizarre to say the least. It was a bit like I'd stumbled into a different book. It felt like the end of the Rocky Horror Picture Show when the spaceship appears, and everyone changes from fetish wear into fetish space-wear. All the characters are the same, but I'm going, "What the...?" However at least the mystery got solved (and I picked it, yay!), and we got some resolution on the romance front.

So for the cute mystery, I give this a 3.5: nearly a four. However...

Hate-speech

Here's my big problem with the book. The fourth ingredient is vile hate-speech. Sounds harsh, right? And unexpected in m/m, to say the least. I never realised, until I read this book, that one of the things I enjoy the most about the m/m genre is its acceptance. Characters are defined by their actions. Characters who treat each other well are good. Characters who are mean, intolerant, and abusive are bad. There is a place for all in m/m romance. (EDIT 06/2012 This is gay fiction, not m/m. I still don't find the language OK.)

But apparently, in First You Fall, there is no place for fat people. A character who is described as having "a heart of gold" is also described thusly (and these are only a few examples I picked out):

She was Jabba the Hut with pubic hair

...[she] leaned out the [second story] window, her pendulous breasts reaching almost to the ground. Well, not really, but you get the picture.

"...it confirms my theory that Daddy isn't sleeping with her...He couldn't," I explained. "It wouldn't reach".

"Could a person even find her, excuse my French, vagina? Do I look like Jacques Cousteau to you?"


I find this language vile and repulsive. The theme of the book is supposed to be acceptance. It features an organisation that tries to use psychological techniques to reprogramme gay men so they can live 'normal' lives. The MCs feel sad at the inability of some men to accept being gay. They sympathise with one character who was made his whole life to feel ashamed of being who he is. Then the book sets out to shame and humiliate a fat character.

I also think it is particularly damaging because the instances of this hate-speech are slipped sparsely throughout the text, and played for laughs. Only one other review I read even mentioned it. This is the kind of language that not so long ago was used against gay characters, again for laughs, in mainstream media. It passes mostly un-noticed, and contributes to a hegemony of female shaming.

Fat-hating language is something I never encountered before in any m/m romance(EDIT 06/2012: not m/m). Fat-hating language this outlandish is something I never encountered before in any published fiction.

Mr Sherman, frankly I think you should be ashamed of yourself.

For this reason, I give this book a single star.

EDIT 9 June 2012: I ended up doing a guest post on Dani Alexander's blog which expands on this. You can read it here.
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Comments (showing 1-18)




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message 18: by piranha (new)

piranha to be sure, m/m has little fat-hating language (though i've seen some), but then again there ARE no fat characters in m/m. i guess us fatties get to decide whether making us invisible (and by extension unlovable and unsexy) is better than insulting us. to me it's realistic to read fat-hating language in gay fiction; there is a lot of fat-hatred in the gay community; maybe even more so than in hetero mainstream. at least we have bears though; that's something. *sigh*


message 17: by piranha (new)

piranha btw, excellent guest post you linked to.


message 16: by Emma Sea (last edited Jul 01, 2012 07:05AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Emma Sea piranha wrote: "to be sure, m/m has little fat-hating language (though i've seen some), but then again there ARE no fat characters in m/m. i guess us fatties get to decide whether making us invisible (and by extension unlovable and unsexy) is better than insulting us"

This is an excellent, wonderful point. I have no answers. There's a lot of het fat fetish porn, but any representation in mainstream media of fat people as people with just another way of being: zilch. Maybe it is better to have unfavourable depictions of fat people, just to be at least present.

I am reminded of being 15 in the 1980s, and not knowing what "homosexuals" were. In a world with zero gay characters in news, film, TV, or books I didn't have any inkling that there was any alternative to a het relationship. I was not alone. A Christian girl in my science class explained it to all of us (you can imagine how she phrased it) while the teacher was dealing with an unforeseen sodium crisis. (At least, there were gay characters in my books, but I completely didn't understand what I was reading, because it was in the subtext, and I had no frame of reference, because of the aforementioned absence of film or TV references!).

I'm glad you liked the guest post. In the two weeks since I wrote it a coronial report was released about a 14-year old girl who killed herself last year, after being bullied about her weight (the coroner blames "the fashion industry", instead of addressing the hate of fat). Ursula the sea witch from The Little Mermaid became a size 8, and, of course, Karen Klein.

Interestingly, one of the comments on my post, and a recent Goodreads author blog, condemned fat-hate, at they same time as they framed themselves as "good" fatties; people who are fat because of medical conditions against which they have no defence. This sets themselves apart, therefore, from those other "bad" fatties, whom it would presumably be OK to hate, because it is their own fault.

This has remarkable similarities to the furor over Cynthia Nixon saying she chose to be gay. The GLBTQ movement has spent so much time battling hate by positioning sexual identity as inherently biological, and therefore they shouldn't be condemned because of something that isn't their fault. It's interesting therefore to see the response to a reframing that says all humans have the ability to have sexual relationships with all other humans, and I choose to have one with a member of my own gender.

(I am not suggesting the GLBTQ movement is wrong in jumping on Nixon's comment: in any approximation of the real world, it's far too dangerous to suggest sexuality is a choice. Gay people still get killed.)

EDIT: Right after I posted this, this appeared on today's Post Secret.




message 15: by Ery (new)

Ery Emma, just saw the blog post-awesome (and very well-thought) post!


message 14: by Emma Sea (last edited Jul 01, 2012 07:05AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Emma Sea Erica wrote: "Emma, just saw the blog post-awesome (and very well-thought) post!"

Thanks Erica!


message 13: by piranha (new)

piranha i definitely don't have any answers either -- not even for myself. my personal reaction to stereotype hatred has been to withdraw from the mainstream, and associate only with people who work hard to "evolve" away from -isms instead. for me personally invisibility is better than insults (of course not everyone shares that; certainly the person on post secret doesn't seem to (*sigh* my heart goes out to zir)). i do consider myself lucky that despite being christian zealots, my birth family didn't loudly condemn homosexuality, but like in your childhood, nobody ever talked about it at all -- not even gay people (decades later i figured out that one of my aunts was gay). and so i grew up not knowing, feeling all alone with my weird feelings, but at least i didn't get indoctrinated with hatred so deep it wants to kill. and i was fortunate again that my introduction to homosexuality happened in college through a gay couple living next door, so i got to witness first-hand love instead of second-hand hatred. i was spared a lot of internal struggle that way; i went from not knowing right to full acceptance. sometimes it's easier to build one's own belief system from the ground up rather than try to fit into into a structure given by others.

hadn't heard of the Cynthia Nixon debacle, but i've always thought it's dangerous to harp so much on the "it's biological, not a choice", because dammit, even if it were a choice, others should respect that. heck, religion is a choice, and we're expected to respect people practicing it. we don't just give human rights to people who have no choice; it shouldn't ever be our sine qua non for respect. and we absolutely should not cede defining the terms of the debate to hateful pseudo-christians. i do think that's the wrong choice on the part of LGBTQ organizations. Cynthia Nixon is not responsible for rightwing actions against gays; they did it long before she ever spoke.


Lori S. I gave this book 4 stars after reading it. I found it highly enjoyable. However, I am willing admit to glossing over the comments made by the various characters in the text, since it's stuff I have had to deal with all my life and it is just what it is.

I am not diminishing the hurt cause by those words (and yes, they stung at the time, since I'm hardly a small/thin woman) but by the time I got done with the book, I'd forgotten about them. And that says something about how we are conditioned to ignore this type of bullying, I think. Not that it makes such words right.

You're fighting against the prevailing media blitz which has just about always catered to those woman who fall into the "ideal" range of sizes, so it's an uphill climb to get people to see the other side of the coin.


message 11: by Emma Sea (last edited Dec 21, 2012 02:06PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Emma Sea Lori wrote: "I am not diminishing the hurt cause by those words (and yes, they stung at the time, since I'm hardly a small/thin woman) but by the time I got done with the book, I'd forgotten about them . . . You're fighting against the prevailing media blitz which has just about always catered to those woman who fall into the "ideal" range of sizes, so it's an uphill climb to get people to see the other side of the coin. "

Thanks for reading and commenting. I agree we are conditioned to not see privilege. Disciminatory language and behavior is often invisible because the we see the status quo as a 'natural' order.

There's a recent UK study (sorry, I have no link) showing that people exposed to a range of body shapes in images, and then later asked to rate a series of bodies in photographs, were more accepting and gave higher ratings than a group shown only media-normative images of bodies. When we see difference we become more accepting of difference.

I'm encouraged that with the accessability of media to creative people, who can communicate to readers/viewers/listeners in frameworks outside the control of traditional gatekeepers, a wider range of voices are now being heard.

Two recent popular music videos have unapologetically included an older woman (1:37) and a larger woman (1:40)

(EDIT 22 Dec: and Rebel Wilson is announced as host of the 2013 MTV movie awards)



Media reflects culture. I grew up not knowing what "gay" meant. There were zero gay characters on TV or in films. Their invisibility meant they did not exist in my worldview. LGBTQI campaigners and activists worked ceaselessly to change that. Not infrequently they were killed, assaulted, and harrassed because of their determination.

I certainly don't expect to change the world with one review. If just one person read my review or guest blog post and thought "Hey, yeah, that was pretty awful language, I hadn't thought about it", and starts to think about it, then I'm a happy camper.


Emma Sea Weasel wrote: "Emma wrote: "Two recent popular music videos have unapologetically included an older woman (1:37) and a larger woman (1:40) "

On the flip side are they running that Dior J'adore commercial with Go..."


Beth Ditto would rock that.


Emma Sea Weasel wrote: "It would have been a way cooler commercial too. :)"

this review is how we met :)


Sagajo Beth Ditto <3333


Sagajo Weasel wrote: "Lenore's gonna think I'm a liar pants for knowing who she is."

Beth Ditto?


Sagajo Weasel wrote: "Yeah, cuz I'm not very interested in music, and I've teased Lenore about it a bit.

I think I've read about her mostly on gossip sites (heh) but I also really enjoyed Gossips (her band) latest album.


Kelly H. (Maybedog) Great review. I was confused at first by the one star because the mixture of those three authors sounds like my dream book. But I hear you with the other stuff. I have seen some anti-fat stuff in M/M fiction, although nothing this bad. More the insidious stuff like all the big characters are bad, the good are all lithe and muscular.

Macklemore, the second video, is amazing. He's from my actual city (Shoreline, a suburb of Seattle) and did a song and music video supporting our gay marriage law: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hlVBg7.... Warning: I cried the first two times I watched it.

But I was pretty sure the heavy woman was a drag queen, but maybe it's just that there's a man's voice she's lip-synching to. But even if she's a drag queen, that's cool, too.


Emma Sea But I was pretty sure the heavy woman was a drag queen, but maybe it's just that there's a man's voice she's lip-synching to. But even if she's a drag queen, that's cool, too. "

Well, at least we can agree zie is a human performing femininity :)


message 3: by Jen (last edited Apr 07, 2013 11:31AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jen Emma, I just finished reading this book. It was a buddy read, so I'm holding off on rating and reviewing it until the rest of my buddies finish it, but I COMPLETELY agree with your commentary about the fat-hatred. CLEARLY Scott Sherman is a sizeist asshole, and as a plus-sized woman myself, I was really hurt and offended by those comments. I'm planning to rate the book (view spoiler). So yeah. I agree. And you can be VERY sure it will be mentioned in my review.


Emma Sea Jen wrote: "Emma, I just finished reading this book. It was a buddy read, so I'm holding off on rating and reviewing it until the rest of my buddies finish it, but I COMPLETELY agree with your commentary about..."

It'll be interesting to see what your read buddies think.


julio fat-power. lady-power. love power. biaggi-power. gaia-power... UNITE


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