Review: Anything for You by Ethan Day
Every damn book by Ethan Day just sizzles with this incredible wit and authentic eroticism. Deft comedy on every page, sometimes every paragraph. Snappy dialogue, hilarious digression, and memorable characters. I wish it were three times as long. And these characetrs could easily have supported 200 pages of badinage and complications. Romantic comedy this glossy and fresh is so rare, you have to forgive me if I want seconds. Verve is a rare thing. I LOVED these characters, loved their world. Hell I recognized every single person I met in these pages, and yet they were so distinct and specified that I was meeting them for the first time. Fucking brilliant.
My only criticism for this book is simultaneously minor and massive:
The entire plot hinges on Jason's unwillingness to come out. Unfortunately EVEN JASON admits that there's no logical reason for him to feel anxiety or delay as he has. His family is supportive of his lesbian sister. His coworkers are cool/funny/smart and he essentially lives the life of an out gay man, gorgeous and social, surrounded by out gay friends, participating in out, gay culture. So WHY is it such a big deal? Moreover, I suspect that the reason this book couldn't be 200 pages is that the primary source of conflict is so arbitrary and gossamer-thin that it couldn't spin out to triple its length. Its hook could only hold so much weight. I suspect Ethan Day KNOWS this full well, hence the compressed effervescent cocktail on offer here.
And this is what I mean about massive and minor.
I feel like the arbitrary stupidity of the "Closet" in gay culture is at a point of crisis in the world around us as of 2011. This book falls in a funny pocket of the zeitgeist. As a community, LGBT people in the early 21st century are more visible and expressive than at any other time in modern awareness. People are still closeted, even in the face of sweeping changes to cultural acceptance. That's not to say that LGBT people don't face abuse and prejudice, but rather that anyone living an LGBT life has options and openness that would have seemed impossible 30 years ago or even 15. So it's a quandary.
There's an ironic reflexive quality to closeted gays now: homosexuals who are simultaneously "ashamed" while blithely dating openly (even with swapped pronouns), ordering hardcore porn on their work computers, and spending two weeks vacation in P-town or Fire Island without blinking an eye. There's a dated quality too to that mythical Closet, because younger people handle it differently these days. Only a gay man of a certain age would/could conceive of a Closet as it is understood in the pages of this short novel. The peril of outing has shifted (in many cases) from a physical threat to a personal anxiety, especially for the kind of upper middle class urban hipsters that populate Mr. Day's charming book. Moreover, not for one moment did I doubt that Jason was headed out of his (silly) Closet, which makes it a little flimsy as a plot engine. The solution to all his woes was so obvious (and so overdue) that from page two, the end was in full rainbow-striped sight. It's just that Day is so fucking GOOD at building tension and fleshing out characters that I don't care or notice really.
Chad is a magnificent foil for Jason, natch. I'd expect no less from Ethan Day. The tension and chemistry between these men smokes off every page. The raunchy brio of their interactions, and the way they embody the crisis between them without seeming like allegories: gorgeous. They feel so particularized that I think I'd recognize them if I walked past them in a restaurant. Even their sex is an active, compelling part of their evolution as a couple. Day manages to conflate the fear of outing with the fear of penetration (and methinks somebody knows their neoFreudians!). Plus there's a subtle maleness to the writing that isn't ashamed to be emotional without being sentimental... which is the magic legerdemain behind a lot of Day's humor. And so... Jason and Chad's "debate" about the issue of the Closet becomes a kind of meditation on something that LGBT community is witnessing and encouraging. It gets better, because it's GOTTEN better. Past perfect!
But all cities, all people, all outings are not created equal. Your closet is my laundry basket. Some gorgeous, successful, closeted men ARE surrounded by gay friends, shopping in gay stores, living gay lives at THIRTY and thinking no one notices. Right? It's just that in many ways it seems silly and stupid. BUT it feels silly and stupid because the Closet IS silly and stupid, not because Ethan Day's book is.
See what I mean?: major/MINOR!
So while I can grok the main character's panic about facing the dragon of Outness, it's ultimately a silly conflict, because Jason is already doing everything BUT coming clean with people who would never be bothered in the least. And the liberal, intelligent friends/family around him are all-but-DEMANDING he just get over it. So the problem is big for him because he SAYS it is (telling not showing) and everything he DOES indicates that it's minor (showing not telling). Chad's position is so obviously right that he's practically a saint in his forebearance and the suspense is almost nil. In lesser authorial hands that could have overbalanced the stakes, and made our dashing love interest seem a self-righteous prig. And yet, the tension between what gay people "should" do and what they ARE doing is a very real one. Which is why I enjoyed this book so much. But I think in ten years, this book will seem almost quaint in the free pass it gives to someone who is essentially a (loveable) coward for reasons that are changing as I type this. Mark my margins!
n.b. I plan to GRILL Ethan about this topic when I can get him alone at GayRomLit. I want more pages! Longer books! Harder fixes! Bigger problems! I want to see this guy sweat! He's a wonderful wonderful writer. Like the best comedy of manners, Anything for You is essentially a narrative about integrity and community, absolutely more Jane Austen than Jane Eyre. Oddly enough I found myself thinking that it is more of a regency than a lot of "regencies" published by NY publishers in MF. And I think that's something about Day as an author: he is writing Comedy of Manners without seeming mannered or straining-straining-straining for comedy. Rare and precious thing that!
And a superlative rom-com, this! Totally entertaining and snarky and sweet and hot and wise. And, if you're reading closely, also a fascinating snapshot of a moment in LGBT sociology as it evolves.
A must read. 5+ stars.