Pricks And Pragmatism
by JL Merrow, contemporary (2010)
Samhain Publishing, $3.50, ISBN 978-1-60928-194-6


How can I resist a story with a title like Pricks And Pragmatism? In a time when I am giving most newer releases a skip in order to catch up on the current titles in my digital TBR pile, this title catches my eye at once. I don't even know what the synopsis is about - I am intrigued enough by the title alone to pick it up.

We have a young lad, Luke Corbin, who is not a very smart or responsible guy, because he lives for the moment instead of planning for the future. Therefore, when his lover Sebastian, who also supports him, kicks him out, Luke is homeless and penniless. I know, I'm supposed to feel sorry for him because his own father kicked him out of the house a few years back, but still, it's hard not to roll up my eyes at this idea of an able-bodied person unable to take a part-time job or something that can allow him to save some cents while he was with Sebastian. After all, he wasn't paying rent - he wasn't even paying for his underwear. What was he doing all that while?

So, Luke's first act after being ditched is to find a replacement Sugar Daddy. He doesn't like Russell at first, since Russell is not his type as far as Luke is concerned, but Russell has a place for Luke to crash in during the meantime. Luke isn't choosy. Well, he is flabbergasted when he realizes that Russell isn't interested in accepting Luke's well-worn body as payment for the lodging. Oh, Russell is interested in that way, but he's a nice bloke who is looking for the right guy. Is Luke the right guy for Russell?

The rent boy and the nice guy is a pretty typical plot in gay fiction as well as gay movies. I have come across this storyline many times during my days of reading more sober gay stories. This one doesn't break any new grounds as far as the script is concerned, although this one of course has a more optimistic ending due to it being a romance story, and it isn't as sexually explicit or sex-centric as the title may suggest as well. Instead, this story has Luke, the first person narrator in this story, slowly discovering the possibilities with Russell and, in the process, realizing that it is long overdue that he get his rear end out there and get a job instead of using his body as a trade for free board and breakfast.

And here's the thing: this story works - beautifully so. The author takes time to set Luke up for his epiphany and falling in love, in the meantime allowing both Luke and Russell to come off as real as possible in the constraint of a short story. There is no rushed descent into sex, just plenty of gently drawn emotions making each word in this story an unexpected pleasure to read. I can't say I'm fond of Luke, but the author is well aware of Luke's flaws. These flaws are there to allow Luke to experience a realistic slight mellowing by the last page of this story without beating my head with anvils or turning the whole story into a morality tale about how la vie boheme is a lie.

So yes, Pricks And Pragmatism is not exactly an original premise - a part of me can't help thinking that this one would have fit in nicely among the many subplots of Alan Hollinghurst's The Swimming Pool Library were not for the author's more optimistic view on love and romance showing like a beacon in this story. But when the author makes this story work so well, why am I complaining again?

Rating: 86


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