The Douglas Fir by Anyta Sunday
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
I actually got this back in November but ignored it until recently. It’s a really cute, well-written story that kept me guessing where it was going to go. Looking back I can see where it was heading all along but I appreciated the writing and construction such that it could have taken numerous twists. It’s been a while since a story surprised me and I really liked not knowing what could happen next. The characters are decent, but two-dimensional and a little flat. The dialogue is cute and the supporting cast makes a nice little novella to read and has me curious about other books by the author. I’d easily recommend it – $1.50 for a novella, which makes it really cheap – and it’s a fun, entertaining story.
Jase is the first person narrator living in New Zealand as a landscaper. He is mid-20s and has an early teens younger brother with whom he is very close. The brother, Scott who is an adorable character, is mature and intelligent and stays with Jase on school breaks and such. Jase has a crush on his neighbor, Noah, and soon realizes that Noah’s friend Dave also has a crush on Noah. The two men subtly compete for Noah’s attention and Jase decides to come up with the most unique and surprising Christmas gift ever. It’ll take about a year to pull off entirely so he has time to work his way up to confessing his feelings for Noah. That is if Dave hasn’t gotten there first.
The pseudo-love triangle is an amusing angle. It kept the story going and the plot could have gone in many different directions. I think there were too many ambiguous clues to really guess the outcome ahead of time but that didn’t bother me. I liked that the story created some doubt about the outcome. The cast was all inoffensive and interesting enough men without really standing out. They weren’t bland but they weren’t really dynamic either. I enjoyed reading the story and liked Jase as a narrator but I think it may have gotten slightly stale as a longer novel. Instead the shorter novella length was perfect. The first person narrator does limit the amount the reader gets to know any of the other characters. It is especially obvious that Jase’s bias is present when the other men are described. However, Jase is a good guy and although he’s wildly jealous of Dave and Noah, he tries hard to be fair to Dave. Watching the men circle around each other was amusing.
I had a few issues with the story, though only minor problems at best. The first was that I didn’t know the narrator’s name for several pages. This is definitely minor but since the names of the other men are being bandied about, including an insignificant character in Jase’s boss, I wished the story had just been clear and worked a way in to say his name upfront. That way I wouldn’t have been distracted from the story trying to figure out a small detail. Additionally, Jase acts kind of spastically. He’s attracted to Noah but practically leaps away from the guy repeatedly out of nerves and hyperawareness. I knew he would explain eventually but it was kind of over the top.
That said there were many great scenes: Scott’s insistence on the lizard; the trick with the fir trees; the swimming lessons; dead of night scene with a hiding Jase when Dave discovers him. This is simply a charming novella with good characters, a satisfying ending, and some fun discovery along the way. Although set in New Zealand I didn’t get a good feel for the landscape so I would have liked more description but I’m not complaining. This is definitely a better than average novella for the genre and at this price, it’s worth it. It’s one I would read again.