Title: Aqua Follies
Author: Liv Rancourt
Length: 220 Pages
Category: Historical Romance
At a Glance: I enjoyed this book so much, for the simple joy of watching two people fall in love against all the odds.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: The 1950s. Postwar exuberance. Conformity. Rock and roll.
Russell tells himself he’ll marry Susie because it’s the right thing to do. His summer job coaching her water ballet team will give him plenty of opportunity to give her a ring. But on the team’s trip to the annual Aqua Follies, the joyful glide of a trumpet player’s solo hits Russell like a torpedo, blowing apart his carefully constructed plans.
From the orchestra pit, Skip watches Poseidon’s younger brother stalk along the pool deck. It never hurts to smile at a man, because good things might happen, but the timing has to be right. Once the last note has been played, Skip gives it a shot.
The tenuous connection forged by a simple smile leads to events that dismantle both their lives. Has the damage been done, or can they pick up the pieces together?
Review: I have to admit I had no idea what I was getting into with Liv Rancourt’s Aqua Follies. Esther Williams and her “aquamusical” films? Sure, I know about those. And who hasn’t caught a little synchronized swimming during the Summer Olympics? But I was clueless that Seattle, Washington’s Green Lake was the site of “swimusical” performances in the 1950s, which is the setting of this lovely and emotionally evocative novel.
While the Aqua Follies certainly provides a unique backdrop for this story—something I appreciated and was even curious enough about to google and learn a bit more—it’s the era in which Russell and Skip’s story is told that provides for the pathos and those heart tugging moments throughout. This story isn’t in any way my history, of course, but I empathized with it on a deep level because of Russell’s struggle and Skip’s pragmatic recognition of the fact that love wasn’t for a guy like him. This is a time that wasn’t only dangerous for gay men, it was a time when it was quite literally illegal to be gay, a time when being arrested could lead to a monetary fine, at best; time in jail or a sanitorium, at worst. It’s the constraints of legalized ignorance and prejudice that informs Russell’s efforts to conform to what society expects of him—a wife, a couple of kids, the white picket fence—and is the root cause of the shame he feels for being engaged to Susie but being attracted to a gorgeous trumpet player, Skip.
I don’t mean to make this novel seem like a downer, though, so let me tell you about the author’s storytelling style, which is so comfortable, and I appreciate that she uses phrases and slang that fit the time period and allows the characters to move through the setting in a way that feels authentic. It’s obvious that Liv Rancourt knows her way around Seattle and its recent history, and that only made Russell and Skip’s story all the more intimate and realistic. There were some quiet moments of bonding that, sadly, didn’t last more than was appropriate for two adult men to be alone together—especially when one of those men is already being harassed by the police. The most important thing that worked for me is that I liked Russell and Skip, even when Russell wasn’t always at his likable best, and I was invested in their journey and bought into an ending that doesn’t rely on giving tidy and unrealistic expectations to the future of their relationship. I also loooooved that music played such a big part in Russell’s attraction to Skip—there’s just something about a man who can play and/or sing. Skip’s music speaks a language all its own, and the glimpses we get are sexy.
Apart from the building of Russell and Skip’s romance, there’s a storyline between Russell and Susie, his ex-fiancée, that ended up surprising me in a good way. I can only imagine what finding allies in the 1950s was like—rare, I’m guessing?—but finding that support system, even if in only a small circle of people, including Skip’s mom, added an uplifting and hopeful touch to this novel. There was only one minor character I didn’t like at all, but I wasn’t supposed to like him, so mission accomplished.
I enjoyed this book so much, from the trials to the triumphs, for the characters, the story, and the simple joy of watching two people fall in love against all the odds.
You can buy Aqua Follies here: