Title: 500 Miles
Author: Parker Williams
Length: 12,000 words, 37 pages
Publisher: MLR Press
Genre: m/m contemporary
Mark loves Jase, but will that be enough to bring Jase back from the brink after a devastating tragedy?
Since he was fourteen, Mark knew he loved Jase, his brother Eric’s best friend. As Jase and Eric leave for the Army, Jase leaves Mark something to hold onto, but when the two men are shipped to Kuwait, things change when Jase tells Mark he’s met someone. Confused and hurt, Mark is left to wonder what happened. Eric returns, but with devastating news – and needing Mark’s help. Can Mark help the man who broke his heart? Or will he let Jase push him away – for the second time?
This is the kind of story I can see being very popular with US readers. It has the right balance of patriotism mixed with a sweet romance and plenty of nostalgia for a time when audio cassettes were popular. The story begins with 14 year old Mark who is distraught that his brother Eric and Eric’s best friend Jase have joined the army and are about to be shipped out for basic training. Mark loves Jase and can’t imagine life without him but is comforted by a tape that Jase leaves for him. Over the months, Jase send more tapes until Mark is heartbroken to receive some bad news from Jase.
Whilst this wasn’t a perfect story for me, I did still very much enjoy it. In particular, I thought that the character of Mark was done very well. He’s a teenage boy full of emotions, especially his first love and his slightly dramatic flair fit well with a boy just growing into manhood and dealing with disappointment. His feelings for Jase were realistic and I felt all his joy and excitement when he listened to the tapes and all his crushing disappointment later.
The story is told in retrospect from Mark’s first person point of view and whilst this did the narrative a slightly stagey feel at first, I was soon drawn into the events on the page. Jase is less of a rounded character which is often a flaw in first person narratives and the biggest problem I had with the story was his feelings for the young teenager Mark. He claims to have been in love with him since Mark was 14, and I had to admit I found that a little creepy, given that Jase was 18 at the time. However, since the bulk of their time together happens when Mark is 18 and Jase is 22, I pushed past that and liked seeing how Mark was able to get through to Jase at the end of the book.
I said earlier that this book is patriotic, and it is, with its tale of young men going off to fight for their country and performing acts of great heroism and bravery. It is also a book about the difficulties of being gay in the military, although that’s only touched on slightly and coping with being apart from the ones you love. Mainly though, it’s a story of a young man’s love for his brother’s best friend. It left me feeling warm inside and is definitely a story for those who are looking for a sweet romance with a strong happy ending.