My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Surprising exactly no one that follows my reviews, I did not particularly like this book. I feel like I should have known better going into it but the author was not familiar and the subject matter actually sounded ok. Plus I find audiobooks more forgiving so I took a chance. Yes, yes bad me. Le sigh. In this case I can’t really tell if the narrator for the audiobook made things better or worse because I did not care for him. Beyond the narrator though, the plot is kind of silly and just not sexy or all that interesting. The author tried to be authentic in a way but also gave in to the easy out of fiction, which just doesn’t work. I think a book really needs to do one or the other and not try to use both. I didn’t hate it to the depths of my soul but I was really really glad it was finally over and had to force myself to finish towards the end.
Acting Out is told from Eli’s POV as an ex-marine recently out of the service. His deadbeat parents have stolen all the money he saved in the military, and trashed his truck, so Eli is stuck in a dead end motel praying every day to find some work. Enter Royce, a middle aged gay man who runs a gay for pay porn site featuring military men. Eli isn’t gay, he’s very clear on this point, but needs the money. Once he realizes almost everyone else doing the porn site is also straight and just in it for the cash, he dives in all the way. Literally. An unexpected connection with another model throws Eli as does the appearance of a stalker.
For the majority of the story, the plot focuses on Eli and his transition to gay for pay porn actor. The first third of the book spends a lot of time and detail describing and showing how desperate Eli becomes; how hard he tries to find a respectable job. When he finally gives in to do the gay porn though, he’s in all the way. He goes from being unsure and agreeing only to jerk off in front of the camera to anal sex, giving and receiving, the very next day. The time frame is so fast and abrupt that it really changes the entire pace of the book, given the pretty slow lead into the action. Now I didn’t mind the lengthy set up from Eli’s POV because he’s an interesting character and this is pretty much the only character development for the entire book. Once the sex starts, my interest almost immediately waned.
Part of this is simply that showing the authenticity of what happens behind the scenes in a porn shoot exposes just how routine and unsexy such things really are. The sex scenes here sounded like stereo instructions to me and were quite boring. The characters keep repeating over and over that there is no connection, no intimacy, that it’s just a warm mouth and tight hole and nothing else matters; sex is just sex. I’m actually fine with emotionless sex if it’s at least hot but the story takes pains to talk about the preparation, the camera, the direction given and it really took any of the sizzle out of the scenes entirely. Instead I just wanted them over with and to get to something more interesting, which considering this part took up almost the rest of the book I was bored a lot.
Furthermore the narrator here did not help, at all. He’s actually a fine narrator and has a pleasing voice but he’s not suited to this material. He sounds very middle aged and his voices for the different characters blended together too much. I kept imagining Eli and Hamish, mid twenties marines, as slightly overweight 40-somethings due to the voice. So I definitely wasn’t feeling any chemistry or spark in the sex scenes. Then the story decided to throw in the utterly ridiculous stalker issue. This was also a mistake since the book goes from attempting authenticity with the porn site to now absurdity with a stalker. The way the issue was handled from the beginning to the end, including 24/7 undercover police presence was completely over the top and so unbelievable it was borderline jump the shark.
I think the premise would have been enough with Eli conflicted about his sexual orientation and eventually working it through with Hamish, especially adding in the addition of whether they could handle having sex with other men on camera once they were together. It could have been a much more interesting, cohesive book without the unnecessary and distractingly bad stalker element. The stalker element took a book I was mildly bored with and turned it into something I could almost not finish. I think the writing is basic and perfunctory without a flair for wording. That’s not bad per se but it doesn’t help save the book when the plot takes a bad turn unfortunately. Overall I wouldn’t recommend it but anyone following my reviews probably already knew that.