Author: Elyan Smith
Length: 11,400 words
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Genre: m/m conemporary romance
Life on the dole in a dying town is defined by drinking when you can, smoking to pass the time, and, if you’re gay, going down to the barracks at the old port to get some. Iwan’s got the cigarettes and the booze down pat, but he lacks experience, so he sticks to online porn and watching the lads portside.
Everyone else seems to have learned how to get what they want, yet Iwan can’t get past everything that could go wrong. He knows who he is, regardless of labels. But no matter how often his best friend tells him to just go for it, he doesn’t trust others to see past his mismatched body.
Paying for what he’s afraid to get for free may seem absurd, but it’s better than just watching, and it’s better than porn. It may not change the world he lives in, but with luck, it will change him.
I’m going to try very hard not to give away spoilers in this review, but if you want to be extra vigilant don’t look at the tags!
This story takes place in a very bleak Welsh coastal town. It’s the sort of town which is frequently to be found in the UK, anywhere near where shipyards or coalmines flourished in the heyday of those industries. Now many of them are the poorest parts of the country, with no prospects for the young. Iwan is one such young person who never escaped like many of his peers. He lives a life based on searching for non-existent jobs or hanging out with his friend in the park. There’s no optimism here, no hope for him and as such this is rather a depressing read. Escapism, it is not. Even the ending, whilst being a shaft of brightness for Iwan, isn’t hopeful.
The main part of the story follows Iwan’s attempts to lose his virginity. He hangs around the dock area watching the gay men meet up but unable to approach them himself, and he watches a lot of gay porn. In the end he decides to pay a prostitute, scrounging the money together where he can. The scene in the hotel where Iwan meets with the prostitute was quite poignant in the way it was written, full of surprising gentleness. I felt all of Iwan’s longing, his frustration and desire for acceptance. It was erotic, but moving at the same time.
The highlight for me with this story is Iwan’s personal growth. The way that striking out and just doing something to ease his situation then changes his perspective and gives him the impetus to act once at home, to be brave and make that first move he’s been longing to make for some time. This meant that whilst in many ways his home and life situation hasn’t changed, that he’s still stuck in a life of poverty and no prospects, I was a little happier for him and wished him well.
Overall, this isn’t an easy read. It’s not cheerful or lighthearted because it’s showing a way of life for many of the poorest people in my country. It is, however, beautifully written, full of pathos and understanding for someone in Iwan’s situation and I would recommend it.