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Xylophone - K.Z. Snow

3.5 stars

KZ Snow is an automatic-buy author for me, she’s up there on the ‘most books read’ shelf with some great storytelling. I approached this book with some trepidation, though, because of the subject. The topic of sexual abuse is a dark path to go down and it takes a certain mind-set for me to walk down it.

First of all, kudos to the author for taking a tricky subject and treating it with care and understanding in these two characters. Daren and Jonah both carry the scars of past child hood abuse well into their twenties. They’ve never really undergone professional counseling for it, either. When they meet, there is a mutual physical attraction and they share a love of dance and music, but it is their shared background with the abuse that really draws them together. They walk through their history of abuse and find some solace in each other and they build a rapport based on it.

The author also integrates another important issue of how Daren is processing who he is sexually. Offsetting his day job as a musician in a polka band-- how could you get more wholesome than that?-- is his night job in a sleazy dive club. The author nicely includes an exploration of gender-fluidity into the story. Daren has re-invented himself as the androgynous Pepper Jack, sensual, self assured, and sexually provocative. He can wrap his audience around his finger while maintaining a chilly distance. But, he has shame too. Has the sexual abuse caused a need in him for self debasement, or is it a nose-thumbing at it?

The romance aspect of the story doesn’t quite work for me. I’m far more interested in Daren and his issues (one being his obsession with physical appearance) than in Daren and Jonah as a couple. Daren is better drawn and more fully realized, while Jonah remains more of a sketch to me. And far too often, the author’s voice intrudes in the delicate balance between the two guys. It feels as though we see Daren and Jonah through a third party rather than through their eyes. So I feel removed from them as a couple and it made it difficult to connect with the characters as much as I would have liked. I admire their fight towards ‘normalcy’ with each other but I didn’t feel like I could ‘get under their skin’ enough.

It’s difficult not to give this a more enthusiastic endorsement. The subject is an important one and the writing, if flowery at times, has moments of real inspiration.

As a character study of Daren, this was a good read. As a romance, it missed the mark for me; not one of my favorites from this author.