Title: Helping Hand
Author: Jay Northcote
Pages/Word Count: 97 Pages
At a Glance: Charming characters who earn our empathy in their struggle to understand the questions that arise between them, coupled with a plot that eases the reader along through hardship to happiness, makes Helping Hand a lovely way to spend a few hours with your nose in a book.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: Jez Fielding and James MacKenzie—Big Mac to his mates—are in their second year at uni. After partying too hard last year, they make a pact to rein themselves in. While their housemates are out drinking every weekend, Jez and Mac stay in to save cash and focus on their studies.
When Jez suggests watching some porn together, he isn’t expecting Mac to agree to it. One thing leads to another, and soon their arrangement becomes hands-on rather than hands-off. But falling for your straight friend can only end badly, unless there’s a chance he might feel the same.
Review: One of the things we discuss quite a lot in this genre is labels. One of the things Jay Northcote addresses in her new novella, Helping Hand, is labels. In fact, the labeling of sexuality and one man’s desire for another is the core conflict in Jez Fielding and James MacKenzie’s story, and the author handles it the way the entire subject should be handled: by prompting the question, why does what we feel for someone need to be called anything but what it is? Attraction, communion, affection, desire, love… They are all equalizers in our humanity and relationships, and for Jez and Mac, overcoming what to call themselves and the thing that’s happening between them causes them no small amount of anxiety.
Jez and Mac are university students who find themselves in a situation (one financially strapped, the other academically struggling) which means they’ll be spending a lot of alone time together in their apartment, an entirely plausible scenario to anyone who’s ever been a college student. To break up the monotony of their lack of social lives, Jez somewhat playfully suggests that they watch a little porn—straight porn, mind, because they both identify as straight—and indulge in some stress relief of the masturbatory variety, not expecting Mac would ever be game to the idea. However, when the porn watching veers away from the computer screen and steers toward each of them watching the other indulge in the throes of self-satisfaction, Jez suggests he and Mac consider experimenting with some masturbation of the you-scratch-my-itch, I’ll-scratch-yours sort.
Inevitably—and I use the word not because we aren’t meant to see where the story is headed but because the author has already convinced us there’s an easy friendship between Jez and Mac that could grow into something deeper—things become complicated. Mac is adamantly straight and doesn’t understand how he could be attracted to Jez. Jez is confused simply because, while he’d fooled around with guys in the past, he’s never felt the sort of emotional bond that’s growing between him and Mac. The confusion, the not understanding how things turned the corner from casual to complex in such a short amount of time, ups the angst factor when denial seems the only right answer to the very straightforward theory that these two men are simply Jez-sexual and Mac-sexual, which is all that matters.
Charming characters who earn our empathy in their struggle to understand the questions that arise between them, coupled with a plot that eases the reader along through hardship to happiness, makes Helping Hand a lovely way to spend a few hours with your nose in a book.
You can buy Helping Hand here: