A Little Too Broken
When I read the description of this novella, I just had to read it: An HIV-positive guy and a double amputee war veteran get together over saving homeless dogs to train as service dogs. How cool does that sound? Built-in angst and legitimate survival. Wow.
Unfortunately, the total of the parts didn’t meet my expectations.
When Jamie comes into the Humane Society to adopt a cat as a companion to his pet, he meets Tom who is there looking for another dog to train as a service animal. When Jamie hears what Tom does and learns that the Canine Comrade Corps needs office help, he volunteers.
Both Jamie and Tom are attracted to each other, and both feel unworthy of love. Jamie owns up to the fact that he messed up his own life by having unprotected sex with a lover who turned out to be unfaithful. He knows he hasn’t been as courageous as Tom whose PTSD and amputations came from his time in the service.
Jamie’s caught in a dead-end job because if he left to go to a better job, he wouldn’t have health care because of his preexisting condition, and his HIV meds are too expensive without health benefits. He’s also worried about getting the side effects from the drugs even though he hasn’t experienced any so far.
Tom is battling day by day, trying to avoid triggers that will take away his self control. He knows the importance of service dogs since his helps him control his environment and balance his life. His job at the CCC has become the center of his life, and rightly so. He, like Jamie, wonders if he’ll ever have sex again or a loving partner in his life.
When they get together, they see each other as people and not as problems. When a distraught guy comes into the CCC and threatens to kill himself, Jamie calmly talks him down while Tom’s PTSD puts him in a near catatonic state. It takes both Jamie and Tom’s best friend to get Tom back in control.
Both Jamie and Tom are likeable guys who are trying to build happy, productive lives after having part of themselves shattered, and both are lonely and want to love someone and be loved in return.
After setting out the premise of both men and their struggles in general terms, the story concentrates on Tom and his problems instead of continuing the balance between the two. Suddenly the big problem to overcome in their relationship is how they will have satisfying sex, not how the possible side effects of Jamie’s HIV meds or Tom’s PTSD episodes will impact their lives.
Consequently, I felt short-sheeted. True, their sex life might seem an obstacle at first, but it seems to be the most easily overcome. Since the story had been building as a romance heavily on how these two could accommodate love into their lives, the solving of only the sex problem frustrated me.
There’s so much good in this story including the idea of the service dogs and guys who want to get back to a world they understand even though they know they’ll never be the people they once were that I wish Vance hadn’t limited himself to a novella and given time to the even more important issues the men faced.