Reading Challenge / April 2014: Contemporary Romance
Pull Me Under by Zarah Detand
After a video of Ben, a famous footballer who's closeted, dancing with a guy goes viral, his manager suggests Ben get a fake boyfriend to show what an upstanding guy he is. Henry accepts the challenge of becoming Ben's ersatz love because he admires Ben and wants to help him. This doesn't go over well with James, who's in love with Henry and sees his "sacrifice" in becoming Ben's media boyfriend as too much.
The story on the surface revolves around how Ben and Henry get together as real lovers and overcome their fake relationship to find happiness. But on a deeper level it's the story of how Ben grows up and stops believing his publicity in order to become himself.
What Ben and Henry don't understand at the beginning of the book is that Henry is in love with Ben's media image. When that image changes from interesting footballer to gay sports icon, Henry falls even deeper in love with the fake Ben.
Consequently, both men have to change. Both must look beneath the fame, money, and media images to find who they really are in order to come together on a level that is potentially lasting. Until they do, not only are they cardboard cutouts but their relationship is too.
Detand is masterful in writing Ben's stream-of-consciousness first-person narrative. Ben's at once puffed up with his sports prowess yet still uncomfortable with his success. He has great rapport with his teammates and other athletes but is unsure of himself with anyone else. He's self-conscious enough to be aware that maybe he isn't as great as the media think he is. And that's a troubling thought.
Henry, on the surface, seems like a saint, putting up with Ben's often larger than life ego. But Henry's got a secret agenda. Henry can see how important Ben is to gay boys and men everywhere. Henry knows that he's the one responsible for keeping Ben from becoming outrageous and embarrassing himself and everyone around him. Ben's image is important to the gay cause, and Henry's there to help him keep that image clean.
James who wants Henry to be his boyfriend and is contemptuous of Ben is the third interesting character in this romance. James sees Ben as a buffoon who should be ignored. He can't understand why Henry would want to protect and promote Ben at all since as far as James is concerned there's nothing real about the footballer at all. Instead of seeing how Ben's potentially a good role model, James sees him as a setback to the cause.
Although it took me a while to get into the first person streaming presentation, I very much enjoyed this book because it brought an entirely new look at gay athletes and their part as role models in society, especially since some of these athletes aren't the most mature or thoughtful people. Maybe some of them really do need Henrys to make them think like adults and not just party and respond like teens.