Desert Isle Keeper
I first read For Real as an uncorrected final proof over a year ago and reviewed it for an LGBTQ blog awarding it 4.5*/5*. There were a couple of aspects I was unsure about at the time, which stopped me awarding 5*. I have since read it twice more. Reading it this time for review, I realised how much I have changed over the last year, and maybe because of this, the nuanced layers in Alexis Hall’s writing spoke to me differently. I even identified with a different character. For me, this is a sign not of good writing, but great writing.
For Real is a May to December story. Although many of us will find both protagonists young, there is a considerable age gap between them. Laurie (Laurence Dalziel) is a thirty-seven-year-old Consultant in emergency medicine. Six years before the beginning of the novel, Robert, his lover, partner and Dom, left him after a twelve-year relationship. However, Laurie has not reconciled himself to the break-up and his friends are running out of sympathy:
There were only so many times you could wipe up someone’s tears and tell them there were more fish in the sea. I used to think there were too, but I was tired of swimming. And either Robert was a merman, or I was just a really weird fish with a particular obscure mating ritual. Even to other weird fish.
Toby Finch is nineteen and in the same way he knows he is gay, he knows he is a sexual dominant. Laurie and his friends refer to Toby as ‘the foetus’ when they see him in a club called ‘Pervocracy.’ Laurie goes over to help the floundering Toby thinking he, like himself, is a sexual submissive:
It was almost a relief when he cut over me. Almost.
“Not like that. I’m not interested in that. I’m a dom.”
It should have been ridiculous. It was ridiculous. A skinny nineteen-year-old with his adolescence still written on his skin. I nearly said, “You’re not a dom, you’re a child.”
His expression grew sheepish, and I was glad I’d held my tongue. “Well, thanks for not laughing. It’s the best reaction I’ve ever got.” He sighed. “I’m so confused. I don’t know what to do.”…
“It’s like,” he went on tormentedly, “you’re now allowed to be a dom until you’re forty and six feet tall and own your bespoke bondage dungeon. But I’m probably not going to be any taller, and forty is forever away, so what the hell am I supposed to do now?”
This meeting between Laurie and Toby is at the heart of what these two very different men give to each other. I need Alexis Hall’s words again to illustrate Toby’s frustrations and how Laurie is right for him – he wants to feel what it’s like to be a dom:
“Anything. Any of it. Something really basic. Like -” He drew in a deep, surprisingly steady breath “ – I want to know how it feels to have some guy on his knees for me. And not a kid. I want a man, a strong, hot, powerful man, doing it because he wants to and because I want him to.”
When I’d thought he’d be stunning in a few years, I was wrong. He was stunning now.
Laurie’s reaction to Toby begins a journey and love story so emotionally beautiful and real that my review cannot do it justice. There are issues and difficulties to overcome – the age gap, the difference in careers, friends, education, and expectations – all confronted, lived and suffered in beautiful prose. Toby’s relationship with his great-grandfather is such a gentle and genuine relationship – well, I sobbed at one point.
Toby is adorable, but as Laurie says – stunning in his natural wisdom, intense passion and dominance. The author doesn’t try to make him older than his years or ignore the gangly, painful awkwardness of youth:
…there’s still stuff you seriously don’t want to tell your mother about your sex life. Wants to shag boys, I can cope with her knowing. Wants to shag boys while they’re tied up and crying, just no.
Alexis Hall uses the disparities between the main characters to illustrate how we judge others based on preconceived notions about the world, and those who inhabit it – blind to the harm we cause.
D/s (Dominance and submission) is at the heart of this novel, and although Laurie is a sexual submissive, the most erotic, loving and important aspect is that hechooses to whom he gives his submission. He chooses to give Toby his submission and love. Laurie gives Toby what they both desire, and it is so pleasing to see Toby embrace his dominance. This is true love – with or without the BDSM element – to give your partner the things they need to soar, is one of the most beautiful aspects of love and life.
I wholeheartedly recommend For Real to anyone who has romance in their soul.