Where the Allegheny Meets the Monongahela
Warning: this book is filled with serious discussions about, and memories of, various characters’ domestic abuse. There are no active descriptions of abuse on page (everything is related via memories or off-page), but one of the minor characters does die at the hands of her abuser.
This is one of those books that really should not work as a romance – and may not for many romance readers. But if you can handle the very serious subject matter, set within the context of its “counseling” settings (for example, readers experience both of the main characters’ therapy sessions), the book works. It appeared in a list of m/m recommendations on AAR’s old messages boards; and I’ve never forgotten it.
Logan Crane’s life changes abruptly the day he injures his wife. Having pled guilty to abusing his wife, and now in an abuse counseling program, Logan is ashamed, confused and just trying to get back to his old life – mostly his two daughters – as quickly as possible. He is genuinely uncertain about how he came to be in the situation he finds himself: he knows he hurt Linda but he can’t really explain how it happened. He is desperately attempting to complete his required counseling but without admitting to himself or revealing to anyone else any more than is absolutely required. As part of his therapy, Logan agrees to teach auto maintenance skills to a group of battered and abused women – and meets Nick Zales, whose own mother was a victim of serious abuse. Nick is a counselor at a shelter for victims of domestic violence and runs the life-skills program in which Logan has volunteered to teach. He also owns a classic T-bird convertible in desperate need of restoration.
What worked for me was Watson’s ability to distinguish between someone who commits a single, horrible act and people who are persistent abusers. Of course, the fact that Nick is a survivor of abuse himself (in addition to his mother) makes him suspicious and resentful when he is forced by Logan’s counselor (who also happens to be Nick’s boss) to allow Logan to interact with his survivor clients. In real life I imagine it is unlikely that Logan would ever come into contact with survivors of abuse even in such a supervised setting – particularly so early in either his, or their, recoveries. But this is romantic fiction and – while a little quick for my tastes – Watson believably develops a relationship between Nick and Logan.
I really liked the working-class characters in this book. Logan and Logan’s family in particular struggle to make ends meet. What Logan wants to do is work on cars. It’s the only place he can really relax and be himself. But when the book opens Logan is working every hour he can get in the garden center of a Pittsburgh hardware store to make ends meet (his father’s garage in the much smaller town he is from had to close). And although Nick is college-educated, he worked his way through school. He owns a small house in a working-class neighborhood, drives a beater car (despite the T-bird restoration project), and can pay an aide to look after his mother while he is at work. But there are no secret trust funds or billionaire sugar daddies lurking in the background to step in and save any days.
The Pittsburgh setting is unusual. And if I’m ever there, I will absolutely go to Point State Park to visit the fountain and overlook of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers where they join to become the headwaters of the Ohio River.
The worst thing I can say about the book is the phonetic spelling used throughout by the author to evoke what I assume is meant to be a working-class Western Pennsylvanian’s accent:
“Gonna warsh my hands, and get me a Iron City; relax a little before dinner.”
“You didn’t say nothin’ ‘bout a party this mornin’.”
“I ain’t up for no party. You jus’ go on without me.”
Even college-educated Nick – to emphasize his working-class upbringing? – regularly uses the word “ain’t” when he is speaking to Logan. This may accurately reflect how some people speak but the quantity throughout was distracting to this reader.
On the whole, however, this is a solid read. It is a book that has stayed with me for more than 6 years and several hundred books; and it held up on a recent reread.
~ Katherine Lynne