Review: After the First Taste of Love

After the First Taste of Love
After the First Taste of Love by Talon Rihai
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It’s rare that a SMP book fails to deliver for me but sadly I struggled with this one. It’s only a novella but I kept wishing it’d end sooner so I’d be done. It’s not a bad concept but the execution leaves something to be desired. The story attempts to add complexity and depth in numerous ways but I’m not convinced any of them actually worked. Instead of a story about long time friendship turning into true love, this reads more like an examination of cultural and societal issues. The main couple do not feel like a committed, ever lasting couple so much as friends that have sex because they both have too many issues to be with other people. Ultimately this novella failed to entice me to want to read it and I think failed to convey the many messages it attempted.

The basis of the story is about two long time multicultural friends, Nick and Angelo, that finally have become lovers after years apart. Nick is running away from 2 year abusive relationship and Angelo has always had short, sex filled escapades that go nowhere. The day after Nick runs away from his abuser and to Angelo’s home, the men are having sex and finally in love. The remainder of the story delves into the mental and emotional roadblocks both men are suffering from. Add in a litany of random secondary characters that add nothing and go nowhere except to increase the concepts of multiculturalism.

The concept of the story is actually fine. It’s complex enough to allow room to grow, the relationship to change, and the characters to develop. Unfortunately the story doesn’t do any of those things. There’s definitely potential to do so but instead the characters stay within their molds and change very little. This is not only problematic given the complex emotional issues both men experience but also in the context of their relationship changing from friends to lovers. Angelo and Nick aren’t the deepest men, despite the author’s attempt to tell the readers differently, and their change to lovers makes few, if any, real difference in their relationship. They maintain the almost weird “big bro, little bro” connotations to the end. Because of this the characters stay firmly within their comfort zones. Nick is the little brother desperately in need of comfort and stability, something Angelo loves to provide as the big brother. I don’t have a problem with incestuous relationships per se but I thought their insistence on such terminology bordered on weird and touchy towards the end. It plays into the feeling that these two aren’t true love, soul mates so much as friends that are too messed up to be with anyone else and since they’re both gay they may as well be together.

There’s also a solid attempt to include more ethnicity and diversity than most stories in this genre show. This is nice but instead the story is littered with almost diatribes of cultural information. Very little, if any, of this really plays into the story or their characters themselves. Growing up in the environments both men did would absolutely play into their personalities and issues but instead of seamlessly incorporating these facts into the characters, the writing offers stale, almost lecturing information without the sense of cohesion and integration into the story and protagonists. There are a endless parade of secondary characters that add nothing and go nowhere. The abusive boyfriend gives Nick numerous complexes but is never seen on page and there’s no resolution to that problem. Nick’s sister is shown briefly to add in some Spanish words with the promised dinner invite never resolved. Angelo’s mother, while a nice character, seems to offer nothing in the way of emotional support to Angelo so those scenes are fine but seem pointless. Likewise with the random friends or ex-lovers scattered throughout the story. These secondary people seem to have no real reason to be in the story nor do they add to the main relationship in any clear way.

The writing is decent but often choppy. Using flashbacks to add to the background is a fine choice but these inserts feel abrupt and often disconcerting. They are added in here and there without smooth transitions and change the tone of the story dramatically each time. I wish the authors had found a more seamless and coherent way to include these scenes. There are also a handful of writing errors that I noticed mostly because I wasn’t too engaged in the story so the technical aspects of the writing stood out. I think all the elements to make the story interesting are all there but the execution just doesn’t do the concepts justice. This isn’t a horrible story at all but it really dragged for me and it’s sadly not one I’d recommend.

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