Summer Gardener by Jan Irving
Alejandro Moreno drops out of college and puts aside his dream of a degree in landscape design to take care of his mother and younger brother. Then he gets the chance to restore a strange and unpopular patch of land with an uncanny inhabitant—Fane, a prickly fairy.
At first, Alejo isn’t thrilled to share the space with the annoying fae, but as they work together on the neglected garden, both men discover they have two things in common: a love for working with the natural world and loneliness. But how can Alejo handle feelings for not just another man, but one who isn’t human at all?
Although I disliked Irving’s previous offering, The Janitor, I wanted to give the author another try. Unfortunately after reading the train wreck that is Summer Gardener, Irving’s writing is definitely not for me. There are numerous readers who have praised her work so perhaps others will enjoy her books more than I did. This particular offering is poorly written with a lazy way of showing emphasis through random italicized words in combination with a loose plot and bad characterization. There are glimpses of humor that shine in the mess of this paranormal story but the writing, prose, and characters definitely overwhelmed the few humorous touches.
The plot is loosely based on a hispanic man who drops out of school while pursuing his master’s degree to take care of his ailing mother and younger brother. To do so, he takes a job tending one of the city’s numerous gardens and encounters a rather annoying and obstinate fairy. Although this fairy is only nine inches tall, the two become so close that sexual sparks fly. When the moon is full and fairy magic high, the opportunity to consummate their relationship becomes a reality. Unfortunately human responsibilities may force the two new lovers apart.
There is something inherently humorous about a nine inch obnoxious naked fairy that is determined to run the garden his way in spite of what any pesky, annoying human thinks. Unfortunately the gardener, Alejo, is a Gary Stu character. He is a virgin with a vow of chastity for reasons never explained, who gave up his education to take care of his family while working low wage paying jobs. He saves small animals and tailless snakes while being humble about his attractive good looks and self effacing to his many great qualities. He sacrifices his own happiness to help his family, which causes much angst and emotional depression, and ultimately needs a band of fairies to help him keep his job because Alejo is too wrapped up in his personal angst to figure out a solution to his problems. Alejo is also not gay and is only attracted to the fairy because of the pheromones Fane produces. Alejo can’t quite accept that he’s having gay fairy sex once a month, taking every opportunity to “break up” with Fane.
Despite his education, Alejo speaks in a mixture of bad Spanish and broken English. Considering the education he was working towards, the dialogue is deplorable and the characterization is inconsistent. Here are just a few examples:
“I’m not played out. And I’m not a lad. I’m twenty-three, Soy majo—I’m hot, yes? And gardening is hard work. ”
“You are very nicely, ah, formed, Fane. Paz, eh? We make peace now.”
The writing does not help the story at all from poor descriptions to pronoun confusion and an overabundance of italics. The story has a lazy way of using emphasis, italicizing various words instead of showing through words and actions. There are at least 75 random italicized words to show emphasis such as:
“But you seem to like your job.”
He stood when he was able, that scent still teasing him,
But Fane liked to nick things and hadn’t really taken Alejo’s wallet.
Alejo smelled as good to Fane as another fairy would!
“I like it, and who cares what she thought?
When Fane turned over on his stomach and rubbed himself in Alejo’s hair
He felt a little disappointment but really, it was time he went home,
I can’t help it.
And I’ve been really horny lately.
These are just a handful of examples, all early on in the book. This tendency to use italics is repeated with various internal dialogue phrases as well. However, the internal dialogue alternates between third person and first person without any consistency or reason. The story is told in alternating third person point of view between Fane and Alejo, but the changes to point of view in the internal, italicized dialogue are seemingly random.
Whether I want one or not.
He wanted to see Alejo naked.
I’ll keep you safe.
He hated going home lately, leaving Fane.
The prose tends to be repetitive with words such as wee and Joder! used too many times. This keeps the descriptive quality of the story low and uninteresting. There is a lack of any depth to the descriptions and little vitality and energy. Not to mention the weird and unexplained pseudo bondage fantasy Alejo has out of the blue which leads to Fane calling him “boy” and “pet.” Where this came from is a mystery and although the idea of using floss as bondage while on Barbie’s dream bed for two fairies is humorous, the scene is cringe inducing. Here’s a taste:
Alejo lifted up to meet the club inside him, his wings folded behind him, somehow the sensations that lived in his nipples, balls, and cock also translating pleasurably there since his fairy body seemed more sensual than his regular one.
Fane stroked his cock like a friendly pet. And that easily, lifted Alejo to climax again. “Boy, my boy,” he murmured as Alejo spilled, hands balled above his head, neck corded, feeling Fane’s cool release oddly comforting inside him.
Ultimately the resolution takes place off page as Fane, the fairy, somehow convinces a city garden board to allow Alejo to keep his job in the face of the evil manager. There is also no strong happy ending, a vague happy for now with Fane and Alejo together but Alejo still barely admits he has a boyfriend, let alone a fairy boyfriend.
I wanted to like this story because the touches of humor really stand out rather well, such as Fane’s comment about his ex-boyfriend being stuffy and reformed plant rights’ activist. Unfortunately the poor writing, bad characterization, and badly executed plot just failed on every level, so much that even those moments of humor couldn’t save this book. If you’re a fan of this author, perhaps you’ll enjoy this offering but there are much better stories for your money.
Ps. When I was confirming with the Cocktease about the Mary Sue/Gary Stu moniker, they helpfully offered this commentary about the cover. “omg, is that the Dreamspinner one with the hideous cover that looks like the guy’s groin is melting in a pot of acid? frothy acid?”
Indeed it is.