Where You Hurt the Most by Anne Brooke
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Anne Brooke always impresses me. I quite literally love her writing. There’s a sophistication and refinement to the clean, sparse prose that sets her apart. In fact I enjoyed reading the writing more so than the story itself, which wasn’t slacking. The theme of pain is one that Brooke has dabbled in before and intense concepts are truly her forte. Love, longing, need, desire, and characters that are anything but easy combine to offer a deeply moving yet still light story. I didn’t walk away depressed or depleted from an angst ridden story. Instead the quick story manages to be hopeful and inject laughter amid the intensity.
Adrian is a very successful escort and has been for five years. He’s happy living a good life and indulging in luxuries he wouldn’t have otherwise been able to afford. This includes being able to study multiple subjects that catch his interest. So when his boss, Max, asks Adrian to do him a favor and see a family member, Adrian is quick to agree. Dan is physically and emotionally scarred from a tragic accident that destroyed not only his face but also his future. Dan is stuck in an angry rut and expects nothing good to come of his time with Adrian. Slowly the two men come to an understanding that is surprising for both. The emotions that develop have the potential to change both men’s lives.
Coming in at only 40 pages, I was surprised at the level of emotion and intensity the author managed to pack into the short story. The characters are brief sketches out of necessity but feel complicated enough to work. The relationship between Adrian and Dan is nicely developed though it feels a little rushed. I didn’t quite feel the same level of connection between the characters as Adrian’s thoughts indicated. Likewise I wasn’t entirely sure what prompted Adrian to make the decisions he did during his conversation with Max. However I think these are minor concerns mostly due to the short length and don’t really affect the enjoyment of the story. I would like to see more of these two and any others in the “stable” of escorts that Max runs, not to mention more depth to Max himself.
Overall I’m pretty pleased with this short story due to the excellent writing, drama without being overwhelmingly intense, and engaging characters. The themes of pain, need, and longing are woven into the story in many different ways and skillfully deployed to add depth and nuance to even this short length. I’m pretty impressed with the level of skill displayed, but honestly I know to expect that from this author. I’d easily recommend this to newcomers and fans alike.