By Terri Schlichenmeyer, October 2019 Issue.
This one or that one?
Pick A or B, your choice. Have one or the other, either-or, you have to decide because you can’t have everything. And don’t reach for it quick or, as in the new novel Going Dutch by James Gregor, someone’s going to get hurt.
Richard Turner hated online dating. Tinder, Grindr, OKCupid, they were all filled with the same kinds of interests and in-search-of’s from the same hot guys.
As for Richard, he wanted love. He wanted happily-ever-after with a man of his dreams. He also wanted to finish his grad-school paper, but not too quickly: his entire life was made possible by fellowship money that kept him financially afloat. Without it, he’d actually have to get a job so, in the meantime, he had single dates with single men, and he met with his academic advisor to discuss the work he wasn’t doing.
At least there was movement on that first part: he’d met Blake, who was incredible, but who didn’t seem so into Richard. Onto the next swipe.
And on that second part, well, Richard’s advisor advised him to talk to Anne, a classmate who was also a rising star in academia. Richard knew Anne, but only in passing and she seemed nice enough, if not a little weird. As it turned out, she really knew how to write, though – so much so, that she basically wrote Richard’s paper for him. She was smart, well-traveled, and she also knew how to make Richard feel wanted. It didn’t take long them to sleep together.
That was weird, too, because Richard was gay. But he liked Anne, he liked spending time with her, and he appreciated her generosity. She seemed to genuinely care about him. He started thinking about moving in with her.
And then he met Blake again at a party.
Blake. Single, hot, and wanting Richard now.
Going Dutch is a tight novel – tight, as if it’s been sucking lemons all day.
It’s hard to imagine any two more unlikeable characters than Richard and Anne, as they have endless, banal conversations about their respective classwork and other mundane things. One could argue that this inanity is perhaps the point of the story, but it goes on for too, too long. When you’re in the midst of it, in fact, you’ll understand completely why author James Gregor’s two characters can’t find true love.
Enter Blake, who is a great distraction but who’s not very fleshed-out on the page. Even so, he’s a nice burr under the story’s saddle, adding a bit of desperately-needed interest to what ends up something like wet firecrackers: a little spark and a sputter, doused by overly-wordy narrative. And so this tale progresses to a squirmy-uncomfortable big culmination scene that, alas, even Blake’s presence can’t fix.
This book, filled with small talk and small actions, may appeal to habitual people-watchers but just remember that Going Dutch is sleepy. If you want a novel with any serious action in it, in other words, skip this one.
Look, there’s no other way to say it: it’s horrible. You’re expected to adult but you’re treated like a kid. You can see freedom but you can’t have it. Everybody thinks you know your future but you barely know yourself. And in the new book We Are Lost and Found by Helene Dunbar,you’ll see that nothing ever really changes.
Michael, James, and Becky. They’d been best friends for ages and Michael couldn’t imagine it any other way. On that New Years’ Eve 1982, their future looked stellar, even though Becky was in an iffy relationship, James kinda-sorta crushed on Michael, and Michael was sixteen and solidly single.
On that, he was careful. Months ago, his parents had kicked his older brother out because he was gay, never suspecting that Michael was, too. Michael figured they were secretly hoping he’d find a “nice girl” like Becky but instead, he was using his friends as cover while he snuck into his favorite club to dance all night with boys.
It was there that he met Gabriel. It was there, not long after, that he fell in love.
But what was love, anyhow? Michael had never had much experience with guys – surely not intimately – and he badgered Becky with questions. How did he know he was in love? He asked James how he’d know if Gabriel was The One.
Neither of them had any good answers.
Becky’s boyfriend was a member of the Guardian Angels, and she wondered every night if he was alive. James was distracted by a play he’d written, and by a disease that seemed to be killing gay men all over New York. His sadness kept reminding Michael that AIDS was still an unknown and that, for now, safety was everything; when Michael learned one of Gabriel’s secrets, he knew that James was right. But there was no use thinking they could avoid this disease. One way or another, it was going to get them all.
With that as a backdrop to this coming-of-age novel, you might think that it’s a story too depressing to tackle. Nothing could be further from the truth, though: We Are Lost and Found absolutely sparkles.
But here’s the thing: you’ll have to look for this book in the teen section of your library or bookstore, although the tale itself may be halfway lost on those under 40. Readers who endured the ‘80s as young adults, however, might see this novel as eerily biographical: author Helene Dunbar offers sly reminders of evolving social attitudes, of the times (movie tickets: $3.50. Preposterous!), of teen friendships and love, and of the beginning of the AIDS crisis – memories that are forgotten, or best forgotten. This, she does as she so perfectly, so evocatively captures the angst, uncertainty, and shaky self-confidence of adolescence that it might make you wince.
Give this book to a 14-to-18-year-old, but be sure to borrow it back. Better yet, read it together. We Are Lost and Found is for you both, and missing it would really stink.