Chasing Forever is the third and final book in Kelly Jensen’s loosely-linked This Time Forever trilogy of novels in which the protagonists are all older (late thirties – fifty) men who find true love and happy ever afters. As soon as I learned this book would feature Brian Kenway, whom I met and didn’t much like in book one, I knew I had to read it; I confess to having a soft spot for reformed bad-boys, and I was eager to see how Ms. Jensen would turn him into a leading man and a character I could root for. When he turned up in Building Forever, intent on re-kindling his relationship with his former long-term partner, Simon Lynley, Brian came across as a smug, arrogant git, and I’m sure that, like me, readers were relieved when Simon made it very clear he’d moved on. Brian’s brief appearances in book two showed him in a slightly better light, although he was still living up to his reputation as an arsehole – a term he often uses to describe himself. In Chasing Forever, though, we finally get to see the real Brian Kenway – a man even he has trouble finding, buried as he is under the layers of self-protection and the smooth, glossy persona he’s constructed in the thirty-odd years since his family disowned him for being gay.
Mal Montgomery, a history teacher at the college in Morristown, has been on medical leave ever since he was hit by a car while out running and seriously injured. After months of recovery, he’s getting around on crutches and has been cleared to return to work after the Christmas break. It’s been a long and hard road towards recovery, and the fact that he may never run again – hell, he may never walk properly let alone hike or run – is weighing heavily on him. He’s having a drink at his usual bar on Christmas Eve, trying not to let his eyes stray too often to the handsome Brian Kenway, a man he knows by rumour to be a player and a total dick – when Brian slides onto the seat next to him and starts flirting with him. Mal isn’t sure how to respond; Kenway may have provided the fuel for many of his fantasies, but this is reality and a guy like Brian is completely out of Mal’s league, and would be even if Mal didn’t have two broken legs… so he deliberately ignores Brian’s subtle proposition and watches as the other man exits the bar to head home alone.
Arrived at his condo, Brian immediately knows something is wrong. There’s a cold breeze coming from the kitchen, and he discovers a broken pane of glass in the back door – but a quick survey reveals nothing moved or stolen. He’s about to call the police anyway when he enters his living room to discover a figure curled up on his couch, huddled in blankets. He wakes the intruder, who turns out to be a boy in his early teens with lips almost as blue as his dyed hair, and is stunned when the boy introduces himself as Joshua Kenway – Brian’s nephew.
Josh’s arrival is a turning point for Brian, although he doesn’t quite realise it at the time. He sees his own painful history repeating itself – Josh (who is fourteen) came out to his mother, Brian’s sister, and she threw him out – and Brian determines that Josh isn’t going to go what he went through when he was younger. He’s not at all sure how to parent a teenager (something I think most parents of teenagers will identify with completely!) and Ms. Jensen does a superb job of building their relationship complete with flaws and missteps and misunderstandings; Josh is a believable teen who is clearly adrift, hurt and in need of comfort and guidance, things Brian thinks (at first) he’s not capable of providing. But he very clearly is capable, and I loved seeing him grow into that parental role as the story progressed and his relationship with Josh evolved into one of mutual trust and affection.
Mal is a less ‘showy’ character than handsome, charismatic, troubled Brian, but there’s something about him that draws the eye so to speak, a kind of quiet, dependable authority that is second nature to him and which is very attractive. He’s reached a point in his life where he’s almost given up on having a lasting relationship; his self-esteem doesn’t seem to have ever been particularly high, but his accident and his worries about his long-term mobility have knocked it back even further, and he finds it difficult to believe that someone as gorgeous as Brian would want him. Fortunately for Mal however, Brian is determined in his pursuit and I really liked that the author gives them the time to get to know each other as friends before they embark on a more intimate relationship. Mal is quickly able to work out that the Brian he is coming to know is a far cry from the liar and cheat he believes himself to be, and that rumour paints him as, and to see the genuinely decent, caring man beneath the polished façade.
Ms. Jensen redeems Brian in pretty spectacular fashion, but does it subtly, without fanfare and, most importantly, without giving him a complete personality transplant; at the end of the book, he’s still the man he always was, but a stronger, more honest and happier version of him. The relationships at the heart of the story – Mal and Brian, Josh and Brian – are beautifully written, full of insight and tenderness; and all the characters – even the minor ones – are strongly drawn and the relationships between them well-realised. Most of all, though, I appreciated – very much – the maturity of these characters, not just because of their ages (forty-eight and fifty), but because they act like men with a lot of life under their belts who are able to recognise when they screw up and do something to put things right.
The romance between Mal and Brian is a delicious slow-burn and Ms. Jensen does a great job of building the sexual tension while at the same time setting into motion the couple of sub-plots that provide the story’s vivid backdrop. Chasing Forever actually has quite a lot going on, but I never felt as though the book was over-busy; the author very skilfully interweaves the various storylines so that nothing feels superfluous to requirements and readers are presented with a story that feels rich and full. It’s a poignant, emotionally satisfying novel and a terrific end to this thoroughly enjoyable series.