Sight Unseen – Hunter Raines

I honestly debated about whether to admit to reading this. But hey, as long as it’s not “Fifty Shades of Gay”, I think I’m ok. Any romance, particularly an M/M romance, is a little embarrassing to own up to in my “read” list – but here’s the thing. I read for the writing. I read for character. In the average romance, gay or straight (at least based on those I’ve looked at), those elements seem to exist purely to string together a number of sex scenes. Bored once while working in a little used bookstore was the first time I cracked open a romance novel, and in a sort of a sampling to try to see what made the genre tick I was both amused and appalled by the writing (a range of awful) and the characters (cardboard). I considered trying to do some kind of overview to see if there really was, as there seemed to be, a pattern to the frequency and placement of sex scenes (there seemed to be a pattern of naughty bits first occurring around page 80, iirc) – and then I realized that would mean reading (or at least skimming) boatloads of tripe and spending lots of time on it that could be better used trimming my toenails or clipping split ends. And reading good books.

So much of the writing of the mass of the genre – truly a higher percentage than in other genres, in my experience – is amateurish, even coming from writers with dozens of books to their names. But now and then, a novel disdains the standards of the genre and becomes something better: something actually worth reading. (The word “transcends” came to mind just there, but I didn’t want to get all carried away.)

Do I love the reliance on explicit crudity and “roosters” (no kitties here) in the sex scenes? No. I never will understand why the most adult scenes use the most childish language. (I consider nicknames or cute euphemisms for body parts pretty childish – for example, no one over the age of seven should say “tummy” or “belly”. When someone on a cooking show begins talking about their tummy I change the channel. When a journalist recently said something about the baby in a pregnant woman’s tummy I blacked out for a moment. But I digress.) I guess the mundane words for various body parts are too clinical? There must be a study out there somewhere about the vocabulary of sex scenes, from Tom Jones to Harlequin and beyond. Something else I am not going to contribute to the universe…

What I did enjoy about this book, though, was Daniel. Well, and Logan too, actually, but Daniel as a character impressed me a bit. The damaged love interest is nothing new, in romance or any other genre; it’s hardly uncommon for there to be a high degree of vulnerability and salvage in a novel. What is new – or at least uncommon – is the fact that Daniel, a point of view character, is blind.

I can think of only a handful of books with blind POV characters (apart from the revealing young adult Light a Single Candle, which I’d forgotten all about but which impacted me in all sorts of ways, including the fact that I count steps to this day). I’m actually trying to write one, and it’s a fascinating challenge. (Oh, how easy it is to be fascinated when I can stop imagining and open my eyes and get on with my day!) There is a very unique set of emotions and hindrances – and terrors – inherent to blindness, particularly with losing your sight as an adult. Daniel is – or was – a writer; encouraged by his boyfriend (his muse), he started writing a horror novel for teenagers, found he loved it, found he was good at it, found a publisher, and found fame. Then one night on the tour to promote the book and the movie being made from it, the worst happened: a terrible accident, killing the boyfriend and leaving Daniel with a traumatic brain injury (is there really a non-traumatic type of brain injury?) that has left him blind … but which also has left him with a different sort of sight: he can see ghosts.

It’s kind of a classic use of spirits, but well done: the dead who have unresolved issues come to him, without, as far as he can tell, really seeing him or being able to significantly interact with him. Once he figures out what they need and helps them with it, by leading the police to a murdered body or helping find a clue to a killer’s identity or something along those lines, the spirit walks into a light and vanishes. And then another appears, and the whole thing starts over again. As the plot kicks in and Logan – a ghost writer whose publisher uses him to produce salacious “autobiographies” for celebrities who have been unwarily trapped into contracts that leave them helpless – is sent to capture Daniel as his next victim (because of course the man’s a fraud, or crazy – ghosts? Please!), a new ghost appears on the scene. She’s different. She comes along at the same time as another, which has never happened before, and she has a tendency to glare at Daniel. Also? She really doesn’t like it when Daniel and Logan become rather friendly. Doesn’t like it at all.

A few scenes from her perspective give her identity and the reasons for her appearance and anger, and I found this something of a flaw in the storytelling: it might have been more suspenseful (and more fun) to have been strung along a little while, to join Logan and Daniel in not knowing what the heck was going on. It seemed to dilute the story. This route did provide the “Oh, dear, she’s gonna blow a gasket any second now” factor, at least.

The preliminaries of the relationship are a bit perfunctory – the world this book is set in is apparently a world without AIDS, given the unprotected sex the two men fall to a few hours after meeting – but this is, after all, something of a fantasy. And that is, after all, the raison d’être for the book, if you want to look at it that way. Happily, though, that’s not really the case for this book: there’s more to Sight Unseen than that. Quite a bit more than expected, in fact. To quote a Goodreads reviewer I follow, “I don’t mind a bit of sex, although I’m in the less is more camp” – and when whatever sex there is happens because of love (or at least affection) it makes a huge difference. (For that not to be the case usually means a DNF for me.) There actually was a relationship here. And a really very enjoyable story.

Ghost writer. Heh.

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