I’m a big fan of Samms’ writing and I leapt at her first full-length novel. I’ve been asking for one of these for a while and it’s not surprising that the concept is pretty deep. While the idea is solid and makes for an involving story, the writing stumbles in multiple places. There are problems that I’ve never associated with this author before and ultimately this one is merely ok. It has some high points but more low points than anything and makes me wonder if full-length stories highlight more weaknesses.
The plot is pretty emotional by throwing two very damaged and hurt men together to try to make them work. Each is very hurt by their past and littered with tons of issues. First there is Jesse, a submissive that got involved with the wrong man. Jesse’s reeling from his past rape and abuse, which has left a lot of emotional and physical scars. Aadon is a dominant man trying to take care of his institutionalized brother, also a victim of rape and abuse. These two college kids are trying to get past their individual issues to find common ground together, and maybe attend a class once in a while.
The highlights for me are that the author attempted such intense concepts. They’re good and handled extremely well if not better than most books. The trauma isn’t downplayed or sensationalized but realistic with a nice touch. The two characters recognize their limitations and issues, somewhat too much with long nearly professional speeches about their problems, but it’s nice that the main characters are realistic about their many, many scars. Additionally the characters are well developed and fully three dimensional with Ricky being an exceptional and well-written addition.
Unfortunately after these positives, the story kind of fell apart for me. For starters the writing stumbles frequently with obvious editing errors and a horrible problem heading hopping. The POV tends to switch within a single paragraph making the narrative a bit dizzying, as the dialogue doesn’t always match the person speaking. It’s not hard to figure out the POV but it switches way too much and pulls me out of the story each time. Likewise the behavior of Ricky’s therapist is so unprofessional that it drives me nuts. The intention is to inject a mothering, caring figure and that’s fine but the casual mannerisms and unprofessional, nearly constant touching just isn’t appropriate and I couldn’t get beyond that.
The story also relies on contrived scenes and coincidences way too much. It even attempts to explain why such coincidences can happen but by then, it’s too much. Not to give too many spoilers but the later scenes with the waiter, his boyfriend, and the additional victims are almost corny they’re so contrived. None of this feels genuine or realistic, but more so these scenes feel like an easy way to illustrate yet again the horrors Jesse experienced and his attempts to grow beyond them. I wish the writing had been more subtle and nuanced in showing these objectives rather than taking the easy, almost silly route.
Overall there are good points and bad points about Better and the attempt to tackle truly damaged men and give them a happy ending is a nice idea. Unfortunately the men come off almost too hurt to be together and the writing don’t quite live up to the concept. This is especially sad, as I like Samms’ short stories quite a bit. Perhaps the next novel will be better.