This was the first novel I’ve read by Cullinan, and overall, I thought it was a very good contemporary romance about one young man’s awakening and acceptance about himself, what he needs, what he wants, and how he wishes to move forward.
Sam is 21, gay, living in his controlling aunt’s basement, trying to work his way through school, and flitting between a few different sex partners, all of whom pretty much treat him like dirt (and for reasons he doesn’t understand, he kind of likes that treatment, but is less a fan of who is giving it to him.) A hot trucker in the alleyway behind his work catches his eye, and after a bit of flirting, Sam finds himself having fantastic sex in the back of the trucker’s rig.
What could have been a one-off “sexperience” turns into more as Sam and his trucker Mitch connect a few more times. When Sam’s life spirals out-of-control, Mitch comes to his rescue and they hit the road together. Sam’s future lies ahead of him without a roadmap, but the safety he feels with Mitch is enough for him to take a chance on the great unknown.
Probably what I liked the most about this story was watching sweet Sam challenge himself and explore his desires while still being within the safe confines of Mitch’s arms, his watchful gaze, and his respect for Sam’s hard limits. You really get the idea that Mitch was trying to protect Sam from falling into the bad experiences that Mitch had in his youth (and had caused to others.) Mitch at 33 carries a lot more understanding (and fear) than when he was younger and “Randier”, and it’s clear that if Sam had met him when Mitch was 30, 25, 21, or even a 17-year old bully, Sam’s experience would have been much worse, and part of a long line of forgotten truck stop twinks. But instead, with Mitch’s weathered experience and Sam’s sunny youthfulness, they push each other forward with a stormy mix of caution, arousal, and sometimes anger, and draw out each other’s fears and desires (and love.)
Even though I’m not a fan of most “straight-up” contemporaries, that mix really worked for me, and I thought Cullinan did a good job of mirroring Sam and Mitch’s journey across the country with Sam’s own personal journey of letting go of the fears that were holding him back, either from realizing what he wants sexually, or where he wants to go in his life. The parallel of him slowly scattering his mother’s ashes along the way was a nice touch. (And I’ll be honest and say I cried at the part where Sam passes along the last box of ashes, and the meaning that the gesture held.)
Mitch is more of a puzzle than Sam, but I saw this primarily as Sam’s story. Their growing relationship is a big part of it, but Sam’s journey for acceptance and growth is the glass chest within the center of the novel.
I’ve heard brief references about “Old Blue”, Mitch’s truck, before I read this, so I liked finding out that, in fact, the truck is very iconic, and a big part of the setting for the whole story. It’s Mitch’s home, and In a way, it’s his traveling heart, one that slowly opens up to Sam, letting him ride along and burrow within, and then it reaches a point where his heart/truck can’t move away, and the radius that he used to travel narrows down to the space around Sam. His home has no specific place except that place where Sam is, and I thought that was very well conveyed.
My main down points are is that I thought the first three quarters were stronger, pacing wise. I didn’t mind the last quarter and the focus on Vegas (and Randy), but it did feel like a big pacing shift for me. At one point, there’s like a “sex weekend” which was kind of conveyed in a telling-way, and at points, felt like the literary equivalent to a video montage where the characters shift from naked riding with cowboy hats to sex toy testing. Many earlier parts of the novel had a very immediate, in-the-moment feeling, so these passages that were more broadly telling was a little jarring. (I think it was there to show the passage of time as well as the growing intimacy, but it was a jarring style change for me.)
The ending is also nice, and I think will be very satisfying for many, but for me it was a little over-the-top HEA, and that also felt a little jarring compared to the slower exploratory pace that most of the novel had. (I would have been fine if they had a “let’s try to make it work” HFN here, but that may be just me.)
Overall, I really enjoyed it. I get bored or frustrated easily with most straight-up contemporaries, so to be carried along so well on Old Blue felt like a real treat. Sam is such a sweet character, so it was nice to ride with him on his journey to self-acceptance, and I’m glad that he met an older, wiser Mitch who could watch out for him, and that Sam was able to shine some much needed sunshine into Mitch’s life.
This review was first posted at Boys in our Books. Click on the pic to read everyone's thoughts. (All 9 of us!) :D