“To me our love was everything and you were my whole life. It is not very pleasant to realize that to you it was only an episode.” ― W. Somerset Maugham
Author: Harper Fox
Publisher: Carina Press
Pages/Word Count: 94 Pages
Rating: 5 Stars
Blurb: It’s not the breaking up that kills you, it’s the aftermath.
Ever since his longtime lover decided he’d seen the “heterosexual light,” Matt’s life has been in a nosedive. Six months of too many missed shifts at the hospital, too much booze, too many men. Matt knows he’s on the verge of losing everything, but he’s finding it hard to care.
Then Matt meets Aaron. He’s gorgeous, intelligent and apparently not interested in being picked up. Still, even after seeing Matt at his worst, he doesn’t turn away. Aaron’s kindness and respect have Matt almost believing he’s worth it–and that there could be life after Joe. But his newfound happiness is threatened when Matt begins to suspect Aaron is hiding something, or someone…
Review: Harper Fox’s Life After Joe is a book that came out not too long after I accidently discovered I had an obsession with M/M Romance. It’s a book that has languished on my “Gods, I really need to read this soon so I’m not the only one on the planet who hasn’t read it yet” shelf for four years now, so please believe me when I tell you that if you’ve had this book on a similar—and less awkwardly titled—shelf for any length of time, you should probably consider bumping it to the top, but be prepared for a difficult journey.
Matt is a man on the brink of self-destruction, a man who’s lost the love of his life to a two year affair he never suspected was happening right under his nose. He’d grown up loving Joe, had never for a moment known what it was like to love and be loved by anyone else, which made the sting of the betrayal bad enough, but what made it worse is that Joe left Matt so he could go play hetero house with the other woman.
With perhaps the cleverest of intentions, the author makes Matthew very difficult to sympathize with at first. His actions and his consistent bent toward self-harm keep him toeing that hairline ledge between pathetic and sympathetic, and there are times when he falls over that wretched ledge but is somehow pulled back time and again to play on reader emotions. Joe, the bastard ex, never spends more than a moment on-page but does so so eloquently through Matt’s thoughts and emotions and actions that the sheer magnitude of hatred for the ghost of Joe escalates with every disastrous decision Matt makes.
Meeting Aaron West when Matt did should’ve been a disaster in the making itself, and though it was by no means pretty, the fact Aaron didn’t run for the hills left me straddling the fence of belief that he was either a glutton for punishment or the noblest man on earth; it wasn’t always easy to decide which, but in the end, when it’s revealed that he’s nearly as broken as Matt, it makes the thread of promise these two men follow through the labyrinth of loss that much more poignant.
One of the many things the author has done so beautifully in this book is make it feel as though it’s a much longer story, which wouldn’t normally be considered a compliment but in this case is because, simply put, Life After Joe is emotionally piquant, the characters’ actions and thoughts so tangible and their struggles so woefully human that it’s impossible not to wallow headlong into the train wreck that is their lives, making the book feel lush and at times overwhelming. It does in just ninety-four pages what many longer novels have failed to do—it lets you burrow into its characters lives, makes you feel their fear and pain to the point it’s almost unbearable, then makes you work all the way to the final page for what feels like interpretive happiness. Harper Fox doesn’t magically fix everything, nor does she promise forever in this book. She merely gives her characters the tools of possibility, to do with them as they will, and that’s really the most any of us can expect from life.
I can’t recommend Life After Joe highly enough.