Maverick ("Mav") and Duke are best friends and roomies. They're both part of their college's soccer team - Duke is the team captain, and Mav is the goalie.
Both Mav and Duke are very competitive, which is where the game "gay chicken" comes in. The initial rules: get as close to each other as possible without kissing, the loser being the first one to pull away. Since neither one of them likes to lose, the game keeps getting ramped up, until Mav starts to wonder whether they've crossed the line from "gay chicken" into "we're gay."
When Duke starts talking about the two of them living together as a couple when they go off to grad school, Mav isn't sure what to do or say. He's never thought of himself and Duke as gay before, but if he doesn't sort out his feelings fast, he may lose his best friend forever.
I remembered reading a good review of this one a while back. It was on sale, I was curious, and it seemed like a sexy read.
Rather than starting off with sex and then leading into more sex, Anderson builds up to it. “Gay chicken” starts with kissing and goes from there – I think there are only one or two actual sex scenes in the novella (if one defines sex strictly), and only near the end. General steaminess is the main thing this novella has going for it, and the gradual ramping up of “gay chicken” helps build anticipation. It's not just “what Mav and Duke are doing right now” but “what are they going to do next?”
If all you're looking for is steamy m/m scenes, I'd say give this one a go. However, I need more than that.
I'm a very character-oriented reader. If the characters are interesting, if I like them and care about them for some reason or another, there's a good chance I'll like the story as a whole. Duke and Mav are nice guys, but...they feel kind of weak as characters. Okay, so they have goals: Mav wants to be a pharmacist and Duke wants to go to business school. They like playing college soccer and are really, really good friends. I think maybe if the novella had focused on Duke instead of Mav, I might have liked it more, although I probably would have found the premise even more unbelievable. Unfortunately, the novella focuses on Mav.
Mav is an idiot.
It would probably be kinder to say that he's just in denial, but I really do think it's more accurate to call him an idiot. “In denial” might fit if, say, Mav found himself fantasizing about his friend but told himself it didn't mean anything because, after all, they both had dated lots of girls. Guys who date women can't possibly be interested in other guys, right?
Except Mav doesn't just fantasize about Duke. “Gay chicken” doesn't take long to progress from kissing (which, by the way, happens in front of an audience – one person, and a friend of theirs, but still) to everything just short of sex. Duke was the one who started “gay chicken,” he was the one more likely to casually touch Mav, he was the one who started their sleeping arrangements (Mav and Duke sleep in the same bed together almost all the time), and he was the one who suggested that he and Mav earn the rest of their rent money by posing for pictures for Str8te Boys, a website featuring sexy and sweet photos of supposedly straight guys. Mav figured that Duke was just more comfortable with all of that than he was, so he never said anything about any of it and even gradually got used to most of it.
Like I said, Mav is an idiot. I can't even say that this book is set in some kind of parallel universe in which everyone has blinders on. Every single character in this book figured things out before Mav did. Maybe it would have been better if they had all been revealed to be as dense as Mav, because the revelation that everyone else knew or had figured things out already just made Mav look worse. I have a hard time accepting that a character who, in other aspects of his life, seems to have at least average intelligence can be so dense when it comes to reading his best friend.
Anderson dedicates the novella to her “loyal m/m readers” and it certainly reads like it was meant for them. The book is from Mav's perspective (in the third person, but focused on his perspective – I'm sure there's a word for this), but it feels slightly off. Even at the beginning of the story, before the first game of “gay chicken,” Mav seems hyper-aware of his and Duke's muscular, masculine physiques. That may have been partly to hint at Mav's growing attraction to his best friend, but it also seemed to me like playing things up for the readers. This, and the various “gay chicken” scenes, had a tendency to make me feel a wee bit like a voyeur. I don't generally get that feeling when I read romance, or even erotica, and I found it a bit uncomfortable. However, I haven't seen this mentioned in other reviews of this novella (in fact, the general consensus seems to be that this is one of Anderson's best works), so maybe it's just me.
If this is really one of Anderson's best works, I don't think I'll be trying another one. For something good, short, and steamy, I much prefer Katrina Strauss's Sleight of Hand.
My tools for coming up with read-alikes for e-books (or e-novellas) suck. Take everything listed below with a grain of salt, because I haven't read any of it.
- The Locker Room (e-book) by Amy Lane - I added this to the list because it features two male friends who are in love and, when in public, pretend to just be buddies so that others won't know. One of them (or both?) is an athlete. I have no idea what the heat level is like, and it sounds like it might have a bit more angst and drama than Str8te Boys.
- Man to Man (book) by G.A. Hauser - Josh, a lifeguard in training, is assigned to Tanner during his mentorship program. Josh falls for Tanner, but Tanner is straight. This sounds possibly like another manly man "gay for you" story. Again, I haven't read it, and I have no idea what the heat level is like.