Sunday, November 11, 2012

Pricks and Pragmatism (e-novella) by J.L. Merrow

Pricks and Pragmatism is published by Samhain Publishing and is included in their Gay Contemporary category. As far as I can tell, it's only available in e-format.

According to All Romance Ebooks, it's 25,581 words, which came out to 58 pages on my Nook, not counting the many pages of excerpts at the end.


This story is told in the first person, from Luke's perspective. Ever since his father kicked him out of the house when he was 16, Luke has been staying with other people. As a poor student hoping to become a journalist one day, he doesn't have much money, so he pays for his places to stay by having sex with the people who let him stay with them. Some of the men are nicer than others, but the one thing they all have in common is that they all eventually ask him to leave. For them, Luke is good enough for sex, but nothing else.

Then one of Luke's past roomies hooks him up with Russell. Russell is different from anyone Luke has ever stayed with. He doesn't seem to want to have sex with Luke, even though he's gay and seems interested. He dresses badly, is a bit of a nerd, and doesn't have much of a social life. He's also really nice, and Luke finds himself growing to genuinely like the guy.

When Luke learns that Russell is a virgin, Russell's rejection of him finally starts to make sense. A great, sweet guy like Russell must be saving himself for someone special. And Luke, who puts out at the slightest opportunity, couldn't possibly be that "someone special," even if he's starting to wish he were.


I bought Pricks and Pragmatism a while back, after having seen it recommended by several people who liked authors I've enjoyed. I finally started reading it when I saw that Samhain was going to be releasing another one of Merrow's stories. I wanted to get an idea of whether I liked Merrow's work enough to take advantage of Samhain's “new release” sale price. Spoiler: Yes, I took advantage of the sale price.

I was skeptical, at first, that I made the right decision in buying this. It was much shorter than I expected, which, in my experience, often results in under-developed characters and romance. Merrow's very British “voice” took some getting used to. And Luke was more promiscuous than I prefer my romance novel/story characters to be.

I'm so very glad I bought and read this, though, because it turned out to be surprisingly sweet. Seriously, I get a lump in my throat just thinking about this story.

Luke was heartbreaking. When, at the beginning of the story, Luke's current roomie told him he needed to move out, he pasted a smile on his face and made the whole thing as easy on his roomie (and lover)  as possible, not because being thrown out didn't hurt, but because he needed to keep his options open. Luke had been on his own since he was 16 and, lacking money and familial support, relied on others to give him a place to stay. While he didn't view himself as a whore and was upset and offended at the thought, he did see the sex he had with whoever his current roomie happened to be as a way for them to allow him to stay without him paying and without it counting as charity. So, basically, he viewed his body as the only form of payment he had.

Russell completely baffled him. Despite making it repeatedly, painfully clear that he didn't expect Russell to give him a place to stay for free, Russell never took advantage of what he had to offer. At first, Luke decided Russell probably wasn't gay and wondered why this perfect stranger was letting him stay for free. When he realized that Russell really was gay, his resistance became even more confusing. As the two of them settled into a relatively relaxed and, to Luke's frustration, completely platonic relationship, they got to know each other better. They settled into something almost like coupledom, with Luke making their meals and the two of them enjoying each other's company. Except they weren't having sex, and Luke continued to wonder why.

Because I'd grown to really like him, Luke's lack of ability to see why others might want him around if he wasn't having sex with them was painful. Russell was clearly attracted to Luke and enjoyed being with him, and I could guess why he kept resisting him anyway. Luke couldn't see all of that, though, and it was another painful moment for me when he finally assumed that Russell was refusing to have sex with him because a guy like him, who'd fall into bed with anyone, just wasn't good enough for him. The lump in my throat, it was huge.

I'm not a fan, at all, of infidelity in romance novels. For most of the story, Russell and Luke aren't technically a couple, although they tend to feel like one, so the few times Luke sleeps with other men or intends to sleep with other men should have upset me. Instead, I only hurt for Luke. The poor, screwed up guy didn't even think he could land a job without sleeping with someone first, and he didn't particularly like himself or what he'd done whenever he went out and had sex with someone other than Russell.

All in all, this was a wonderful, sweet story, with a happy ending that made me all mushy.

  • A Rose is a Rose (e-book) by Jet Mykles - A m/m romance starring Carson, a guy who's used to being a bit of a boy toy, and Eddie, the quiet, sweet, manly superintendent of Caron's apartment building. Like Luke, Carson's approach to life starts off as fairly unhealthy, and Eddie is somewhat similar to, although not as likeable as, Russell. I have written about this book.
  • Loveless (manga) by Yun Kouga - It occurred to me that this might be a decent read-alike, although, at first glance, it seems very different from Merrow's story. If you enjoyed reading about a damaged Luke gradually learning to be in a relationship with someone and be loved, you may enjoy this series' damaged main characters, particularly Soubi. It's not necessarily a comfortable series (the specifics of which I can never explain without making the series sound borderline icky, which it kind of is, except I don't want to scare people off), but it's a good one. 
  • Daughter of the Blood (book) by Anne Bishop - This read-alike is another stretch, but I do think it might work. This is the first book in a trilogy, which is part of a larger dark fantasy series. The series has some strong romantic aspects. In this trilogy, Daemon Sadi suffers, a lot, before eventually ending up the woman he always knew he was meant for. Those who'd like another damaged main character (Daemon is a sex slave, sort of) who could occasionally really use a hug might want to try this.

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