Off Stage: Right by Jaime Samms
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I had initially read the reviews on this one when I got it months and months ago and only remember that it was supposed to have a ton of angst; the kind of angst where you’re exhausted when you finish reading the book, ie. Keeping Promise Rock or Red Tainted Silence. Perhaps my tolerance for angst is higher than other readers because while there is angst in this book, I didn’t really feel like there was that much. It definitely did not exhaust me and frankly I felt there could have been quite a bit more. The story is good, as Samms is a good writer. However, I never connected to the characters so I always felt removed from the angst and it never really affected me. I never felt for nor commiserated with the characters so I actually wanted more angst and for it to be real and meaningful. That said I enjoyed the book and read it in one sitting, which is saying something considering the length. However it’s not a book I would re-read. I liked it but did not love it, even if it’s a book I think I would remember (which is hard when you read a lot and have a crappy memory).
Damian leads a grunge goth punk band named Firefly with consisting of friends so close they’re considered family. One of those friends is Damian’s best friend, Lenny. Everyone in the band, except Damian, has a sad tale of broken homes and horrible experiences that have stunted their emotional capabilities. Lenny and Damian aren’t sleeping together but they love each other and want something neither can provide. Both men yearn for structure and discipline in their out of control lives and their cycle of pushing and punishing each other for the inability to meet their needs is unhealthy to say the least. Enter top manager Stanley and his best friend, country star and sometimes lover Vance. Both Stanley and Vance are Doms who can’t meet each other’s needs because they fight for control. When the men realize that Damian and Lenny need the two Doms as much as they need the submission the boys can offer, hope springs for all four men. However it’s not smooth sailing when the two couples pair off and there is a lot of emotion and past experiences to get through.
The story is basically about Damian and Stanley coming together and finding balance in a relationship with Stanley as Master and Damian as the submissive/slave, set against a rock star background. The secondary plot of Vance and Lenny is parallel but not the main focus with only a few scenes from their viewpoint and then the couple pretty much disappears entirely. That said the characters are decent and each has a considerable amount of problems without overwhelming. I liked the time the author spent developing the relationships between the two best friends – Damian and Lenny and Stanley and Vance – showing how each duo loved each other but weren’t really suited for romantic relationships. It didn’t diminish the closeness of their bonds but did show how best friends aren’t always the best partners.
I know a few reviews mentioned the relationships were dysfunctional but I didn’t really see it that way. Damian and Lenny were hurting themselves and each other in a desperate attempt to get their needs met but neither man could do it, nor could they understand why. It takes an outside look to help both Damian and Lenny understand why the two were not working as wannabe lovers, even though they’d never slept together. The story does justice to this concept, as the relationship was volatile, abusive, and definitely not healthy which the writing goes into great length showing both the tragedy and the solution. So while the relationship was dysfunctional, it more so needed help than to be cut off completely. My only qualm was that I never really understood why Damian and Lenny had to be completely kept away from each other. Both men agreed that it was a bad idea to have a romantic relationship as their needs were not and could not be met by each other but to keep them completely cut off from each other felt selfish to me. It was as if Vance and Stanley were worried that the two boys would rather be with each other and actually loved each other more than their new Doms, despite all evidence to the contrary, so in a selfish move the rockers were kept apart. This really bothered me for a considerable part of the story and I never reconciled my feeling that it was wrong to cut the best friends off from each other when it was ONLY them that couldn’t talk, see each other or even communicate in any way. It felt wrong then and even upon reflection it still feels wrong.
Likewise I enjoyed the nuance of the secondary characters of the band members and Damian’s family but the support for Damian felt too little too late. Damian was blamed and made a scape goat for virtually everything, even though the entire book he was actually trying to make good things happen and championing everyone that shit on him, but after Lenny’s latest abusive tirade all of a sudden everyone supports Damian out of the blue. It felt too lopsided both ways and left me not particularly caring for any of them. I recognized them as good characters but on a personal, reader level I didn’t like them as people. I thought Vance was an interesting character, if incredibly selfish and insecure to keep Lenny isolated from Damian, but he was a minor character and apparently has his own book. I thought the relationship between Stanley and Damian worked on a lot of levels and it was nice to see that Stan recognized his own failings and took steps to correct them at the end. I’m curious where that relationship could potentially go because I honestly don’t see it being happily ever after that easily.
Most of all this is a thoughtful book with a lot of layers and depth. It kept me thinking and I liked that about it. I didn’t agree with everything I read about the characters, their motivations, or the solutions but I always like that Samms’ writing makes me think and get invested in the story. I never felt as though there was that much angst as there is a lot of down time with talking between any potentially angsty scenes, which also tended to end peacefully. It’s a book I would recommend because it’s interesting but definitely not for everyone. I think it will resonate with some readers more so than others. I’m tempted by the sequel with Lenny and Vance’s story, even if I don’t really like either man.