Reviewed by Chris
TITLE: What It Looks Like
AUTHOR: Matthew J. Metzger
PUBLISHER: JMS Books
LENGTH: 264 pages
RELEASE DATE: August 20, 2016
Eli Bell is the only son of a police chief inspector and a forensic scientist. He’s grown up wonky in a world that only deals with the straight and narrow — and his new boyfriend isn’t helping.
Rob Hawkes is six feet of muscle, tattoos, and arrest warrants. A career criminal and a former guest of Her Majesty’s Prison Service, he’d rather hit Eli’s parents than sit down to dinner with them. One wrong move, and Rob could destroy Eli — and his family — without a second thought.
But this isn’t what it looks like.
Rob’s not in control here — and Eli’s the one to blame.
The first time I read anything by Metzger was a couple weeks ago when I ended up reviewing his YA story, Spy Stuff. I was totally taken in by his wonderful writing style, his awesome trans character, and the easy way he made me feel so many things all at the same time. When I found out that his newest book would be releasing not long after my review of Spy Stuff I was excited to see what Metzger could do with a more adult-centered story. While the themes of What It Looks Like are definitely more mature than his YA novel, I found that everything I loved about the previous book was still in play. Just with a bit more of an edge to it.
Rob Hawkes is not your cute and cuddly gay guy–even if he does enjoy the occasional cuddle (but tell no one!!). He has a criminal record, is known to deal the occasional bag of weed, and has a grudge against the police longer than the Thames and about just as pleasant to swallow down. He is a man’s man who like men and doesn’t give two fucks who knows about it. He is loud, he is angry, and his kinks are hard and dirty. Which makes his decision to date the trans guy with a father who’s a copper and mother who is a forensic scientist, all the more puzzling.
But Eli Bell is more than the sum of his parts–even the parts not quite yet in place. He is just as stubborn as Rob, just as kinky, and just as determined to make it work with a man who seems to think punching a police officer is a good idea (even if the guy totally had it coming). Everyone in his life is convinced that Eli is making a mistake dating Rob, but they don’t know Rob like Eli does. Don’t know the man who barely blinked when he found out the guy he had been hooking up with transgender, or the man who goes soft in Eli’s arms after a hard BDSM scene. And if it is the last thing Eli does, he is gonna prove to the world that Rob is more than the sum of his past experiences…even if Rob himself fights him every step of the way.
Even after reading Spy Stuff I was surprised how quickly I got lost in Metzger’s fantastic writing. I’ll admit that I came for the trans-guy gay loving, but I stayed for the well written characters, the heartbreaking conflict with Eli’s family, and the sheer craziness that was Rob’s interesting interpersonal relationships.
The BDSM aspects of this book felt real and gritty, but also incredibly true to both of the characters. It didn’t feel like that part of the story was shoe-horned into make the story more edgy, simply that this was a vital part of who they were and how they related to each other. There was no tiptoeing around who they were.
I think a lot of the strength of this story came from the fact that when we start the book, Eli and Rob are already together. It bypasses a lot of the things that tend to hang “trans-stories” up, by not having to focus on the coming out, but instead on the everyday life that comes after. Eli is trans, Rob is a bastard, they both know that about each other…now let’s figure out how they can actually live and love with those things. It is by no means a smooth ride, but it makes it so the story is not about being trans, but about being different and wanting things that the world tells you you can’t have.
I may have mentioned before that I have had a rather…well, fractious implies that we are still in communication, so let’s just go with unpleasant, relationship with my father after I came out. So there is a lot in this book, directly relating to Eli and his father, that hit sore spots in my psyche. And while it wasn’t exactly fun, it did make this story hit home a lot of the time. Even the half-hearted silence of Eli’s mother reminded me a lot of some of how my relatives have reacted. The good the bad and the ugly of coming out is played out in this book. Not so much the actual first act, since that has long passed by the time we join the story, but just the aftermath that follows. It is not always black or white. Not always vitriolic hatred or unconditional acceptance (though I personally was lucky to have enough of the second). Sometimes it is silent judgments and half-hearted attempts that almost seem worse because at least if they screamed you could scream back. Most the time Eli doesn’t have to deal with being misgendered or having the wrong name thrown in his face, but the fact is that they still treat him like a girl. Like they think a girl should be treated, anyways. The fact that they are doing it because they love him doesn’t make it hurt any less. I don’t know if this will resonate with someone who hasn’t experienced it, but for me it was really complicated and powerful.
And If all this hasn’t sold you on it…I’m not sure what else I can say. It was incredibly well written, the characters were real and complex and interesting, and I had a hard time tearing myself away from the story despite the fact that I had things like sleeping and eating to do. It wasn’t even halfway thru this book that I realized I’m just gonna have to read everything that Metzger has written…and then maybe beg him to write some more.
What It Looks Like is highly, extremely, and indubitably recommended.