Tell Me It's Real
Grade : A

Paul Auster and Vince Taylor’s love story would have moved me to tears at several points in this novel – except that I was already in tears of laughter. T.J. Klune offers a sweeping variety of moods and subgenres in his many romances, from the family drama of his Bear, Otter, and the Kid series to the absurd/fantastical Tales from Verania books to the dark, sci-fi weirdness of Murmuration. Tell Me It’s Real brings the best of his writing styles together. The drama and the humor balance one another beautifully, and they come together to create a relationship that readers can enjoy and laugh with as it unfolds, even as we root hard for the HEA.

The story is told from the viewpoint of Paul Auster, a shy, pudgy guy who has given up on finding love and who instead protects himself from the world by both laughing at it and avoiding it. At work, he hides in his cube. At the local gay bar, he hangs out on the balcony with Charlie, the octogenarian light guy, watching the action down below but refusing to join in. He loves his best friend Sandy (a.k.a. Helena Handbasket, the most beloved and feared drag queen in Tuscon), his two-legged dog Wheels, and his family (though he kind of avoids them too) – and that’s about it.

Then he meets Vince Taylor, a beautiful, sweet guy who isn’t particularly bright – at least, not in the conventional sense of the word. Vince has no trouble meeting people for one-night stands, but as soon as he starts talking, his partners decide he isn’t worth spending time with outside the bedroom. Paul’s eyes meet Vince’s across a crowded room – literally – and Paul is so attracted to Vince that he falls out of his chair and spits out the drink that Vince sends him. The relationship develops from there.  Paul simply cannot believe that someone as attractive as Vince could love someone as unattractive as Paul thinks he is, so Paul runs straight in the opposite direction, wildly accusing Vince of ulterior motives as he goes. Vince pursues the relationship with a good-natured, humorous patience that would make anyone fall for him.

As the story unfolds, though, the roles slowly reverse. Vince’s theoretical higher ground becomes shakier as his own vulnerabilities emerge. His history, a painful combination of family rejection and contempt from people who are supposedly smarter than he is, has dented his sense of his own self-worth, and his patience and affection for Paul can’t withstand everything the story throws at them without help. Paul finds himself having to emerge from his self-imposed isolation to reach out to Vince and convince this gentle, damaged guy that he really is worth love and that the relationship they have built is real. Along the way, they must overcome an evil waiter named Santiago, interference from well-meaning and not-so-well-meaning family members, Paul’s homicidal GPS, a homophobic parrot named Johnny Depp, and Paul’s tendency toward melodrama.

This book is very funny. The kind of funny that eventually moved my husband to ask me what the heck I was reading because I kept giggling, snorting, and spluttering out loud. It’s hard to excerpt the funny parts because most of the humor is better in context; it’s Paul’s voice that makes it work so well. But trust me, Chapter 8 (“The Greatest List in the History of the World”) alone is worth the price of the book, just for the laughs. Paul has no idea what to do with Vince (who has ended up staying overnight at his house after a bicycle accident), and his half-horrified attempts to distance himself from this man whom he both wants and (obviously) already adores is just plain hilarious, forget-your-troubles fun.

At the same time, T.J. Klune writes with sometimes-excruciating authenticity about the pain inherent in the kind of rejection that has floored both Paul and Vince. Paul hides from everyone because, in the end, however humorously he paints it, he finds hiding preferable to the kind of humiliation that he has clearly experienced when he’s allowed himself to be visible. Trying to figure out why Vince is interested in him near the beginning of the book, he accuses Vince of “Freddie Prinze Junioring” him, referring to the actor’s character in the movie She’s All That, who dates the most unattractive girl in school on a bet from his friends. The phrasing is funny. Vince’s reaction is funny (he misunderstands Paul’s meaning, promising seductively, “I’m going to Freddie Prinze Junior you so hard later.”) But in the end, the pain at the heart of the joke – Paul’s fundamental assumption, in the face of Vince’s attraction, that he’s the butt of some pretty-person joke – gives the book depth as well as humor. The world treats people like Paul and Vince harshly, and T.J. Klune does a good job examining that kind of rejection and offering a nuanced portrayal of how Paul and Vince react to it.

Tell Me It’s Real tells the story of two loveable, vulnerable characters with grace, nuance, and energy. That last quality is partly due to a rich cast of secondary characters - especially Paul’s family, which falls all over itself trying to support him - with touching and entertaining results. The humor, in addition to entertaining the reader, bolsters the serious elements of the story. The result is one of the best romances I’ve ever encountered, and I highly recommend it.

~ Emily Marsh

Buy it at: Amazon/Barnes & Noble/iBooks/Kobo

Reviewed by Guest Reviewer
Grade : A

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : June 21, 2018

Publication Date: 05/2013

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Guest Reviewer

Over the years, AAR has had many a guest reviewer. If we don't know the name of the reviewer, we've placed their reviews under this generic name.
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