Desert Isle Keeper
Isn’t it nice when a book surprises you?
I try not to judge books by their covers, but I mostly avoided reading Muscling Through because I hated the cover. After finishing it, I’ve decided it’s perfect for this gem of a novella. The model is both menacing and off-putting… when in reality, the character he represents is a gentle giant. Because the story is mostly about how appearances can be deceiving, I’m guessing the cover is a subtle reminder of the lesson within its pages and perhaps that was the author’s intent all along.
Speaking of not judging a book by its cover, I’m so glad that neither of the principals in this story made the same mistake. Muscling Through is a delightful take on the opposites attract romantic trope and despite the assumptions both principals could have made after a less than auspicious beginning, they take a chance on each other anyway.
Larry Morton, a Cambridge art professor, is slightly tipsy after a night out. Leaving the local pub, he finds himself in a dark alley and spots a huge, tattooed man approaching. It’s dark, he’s alone, and based on the man’s appearance, Larry assumes he’s about to be mugged. When the man tells him he’s going to escort him home and asks him where he lives, he’s surprised but can offer little resistance when the man asks for directions. Although his stranger never makes any overt threat, Larry spends the walk waiting to be robbed, or worse, assaulted. Arriving at his home he fumbles with the key but his companion simply offers to help and then escorts him in.
When Larry stumbled out of the nearby pub, he caught Al Fletcher’s eye. Watching the slight, handsome gentleman stumbling about tipsily into a much too dark alley, Al couldn’t just leave him on his own. Worried someone would rob him, or even worse, try to assault him, he decided to escort the man home. He thinks Larry is acting oddly because he’s had too much to drink, so he makes idle conversation until they arrive and, after helping Larry with his keys, he escorts him inside and ensures he’s okay before he departs. Leaving Larry to put himself to bed, Al knocks on the neighbor’s door and asks them check on Larry the following morning.
Waking up the next day, Larry’s confused. He recalls walking home and thinking he was about to be robbed, but also that his companion was sweet and kind. He only vaguely remembers what happened after he got home, but fortunately, his neighbor tells him. Embarrassed by his behavior and his wrong assumptions about Al, Larry decides to track him down and thank him in person. The thank you turns into spending an afternoon together and it isn’t long before both men discover that despite the fact they’re complete opposites, they’re attracted to and genuinely like one another. The relationship – because that’s what it is, right from the start – progresses quickly and it isn’t long before they move in together.
Al, despite his size, is a gentle soul and Larry finds himself charmed and disarmed by his rescuer. Al isn’t quite sure why Larry seems to like him so much, but he doesn’t question it. He likes everything about Larry and just wants to make him happy. It’s refreshing and sweet and I admit, this cynical reader kept worrying Larry was using him or planning to take advantage of Al. Spoiler: he isn’t. Larry is similarly sweet and amazing. Reader, don’t waste your time worrying something bad is just around the corner (you’ll see it long before it happens) – just believe in this couple. The relationship and their affection, is special. From the start, though their backgrounds and lifestyles are so dissimilar, Larry and Al find much about each other to like, and their attraction and sexual chemistry is intense and immediate. Somehow they easily fit into each others lives, and living together is simply the next and most obvious step in their relationship.
There were so many opportunities for Al and Larry to mess up early on, and so many factors working against them; no one, including Larry’s colleagues and family, can understand why or how they’re together. It’s fascinating to watch Larry’s class conscious family try to reconcile his choice of partner; but equally awkward (and cringe inducing) to watch Al’s mother try to bond with Larry. They’re such a perfectly imperfect odd couple – it’s a delight to watch them persevere against the odds, and witness their love and affection for one another. Muscling Through is such a refreshing departure from all the angst in romance novels these days. I definitely disliked a last minute twist, but its resolution is wonderful. It also allows a less likeable secondary character a chance to shine.
Sweet, charming and uplifting, Muscling Through (honestly, I don’t really like the title much either!) was nothing like I expected when I started it. It’s a heart-warming and romantic little gem of a book and I can’t recommend it highly enough.