Title: Everything Between Us: A Story of Love and Chaos
Author: Stephen Hoppa
Length: 282 Pages
Category: Contemporary, D/s, Erotica
At a Glance: This story is Psych 101 with an erotic twist, and I couldn’t get enough.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: Ethan is confused about more than just his sexuality the night he wanders into a white-trash bar after breaking up with his fiancé. When he’s dragged outside the bar and beaten by leather-clad thugs, he’s rescued by the last man he needs in his life.
Raw, dominating, and dangerously unpredictable, this dark stranger won’t even tell Ethan his name. The enigma only draws Ethan in more as he finds himself unable to resist this man or the power he holds over him. Secrets are slowly uncovered. The bond between the two men deepens as scars of the past reveal themselves. But Ethan finds he’s learning more about himself than he ever imagined as a new word finds it’s way onto his lips: submission.
Review: Boy howdy, kids, this book is a wee bit filthy and I loved it.
First off, let me start by stating unequivocally that if you’re looking for a sweet and tender romance, this is not that book. Author Stephen Hoppa not only offers up a wildly dysfunctional relationship in the making in Everything Between Us, but there’s a bit of humiliation kink at play in Nate and Ethan’s dominance and submission as well. The beauty of it, though, is that while it doesn’t fit the traditional definition of romantic, these characters still managed to touch my heart in myriad ways, and I have to give the author much respect for his ability to write around some of the darker themes and elements in a way that still allowed me to see this couple as deserving of a happy ending.
Much like the author did in his novel Keep Me Still, Hoppa engaged me from the start by creating intriguing characters and then placing them into situations that test their resolve—as well as my own, if I’m being honest. Nate’s and Ethan’s backstories are each fraught with familial issues which, rather than being reductive, are integral to who they are. It’s clear at the point these two meet—when Nate rescues Ethan from a gay bashing outside a dive bar—that what Ethan is looking for and what Nate has to offer is going to be a point of contention between them. Everywhere, that is, but the bedroom. Sex is the one area where these guys have no problems communicating whatsoever.
I have to say, and I mean this as a compliment, that I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel in which the characters say so much and yet so little to each other. Much of the language Nate and Ethan use is meant to deviate, deflect, direct and, in some cases, flat out hurt each other because they don’t know how else to communicate. Fear is a powerful motivator in so much of their actions and interactions that when they don’t know what else to do or say, “fuck me” is their default answer. Or, at least it’s Ethan’s default, and Nate is happy to oblige. When they strike out at each other, their words and actions cut to the bone; from an emotional standpoint, these guys are so monotone that it’s often painful to witness. At one point Ethan narrates, “I grabbed him by the neck and kissed him like I was looking for more than just sad, empty pleasure. He kissed me back like he was looking for more than he would ever find.” These two sentences are derivative of their relationship—they’re both so in need, but of what, neither can articulate, and they can’t be what each other needs without knowing what they both want.
Another way this story works with such subtle precision is in Ethan as narrator. Throughout the story, we see Nate through Ethan’s eyes as an almost monstrous lover—spoiled, aloof, demeaning and dismissive of Ethan (although, that feeds Ethan’s kink)—which ultimately allows the reader to see Ethan as…not necessarily a victim but certainly as a sympathetic character. It’s not until much later that Hoppa feeds readers a POV shift and we get some of this story from Nate’s perspective, which caused me to shift my own perspective of Ethan as a reliable narrator. Don’t get me wrong, Nate isn’t a saint by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s not until we see Ethan through his eyes that we begin to see that Ethan’s issues run far deeper than he himself has allowed us to see.
Everything Between Us is a character driven novel, so there isn’t a lot of action and flash in the storytelling—if I were to use any term for it, I’d call it literotica. While the focus is on the progression of the characters and their relationship, it’s also very much inclined towards their sexual connection and interactions. It’s also an opposites attract story, and Nate’s and Ethan’s differences—in upbringing and education and finances—are all thrown into sharp relief alongside the fact that the older Ethan’s submission to a younger Nate is a trope that I love to run across because it breathes something a little different into the D/s dynamic.
One of the things I appreciated about Hoppa’s crafting of this novel, and something I could see being a point of contention for some readers, is his choice to wrap it up with a six year time leap between the final combustive and combative moment that enables Nate and Ethan to turn the corner on their relationship, and an Epilogue that shows us a vastly different Nate and Ethan, a grownup and stable couple who have earned and found their happily ever after. I didn’t need it pointed out to me that “I love you” wouldn’t magically cure these two men of their various dysfunctions, but I can say I appreciate that Hoppa made the decision to offer readers some of those lost scenes as bonus material, not only at the end of the book, but as separate novellas as well.
Once again, as was the case with Keep Me Still, the characters are able to transcend and overcome any minor imperfections in the book’s editing. Hoppa’s writing is fluid and powerful; his narrative voice speaks to me on a level that goes beyond simple reading and veers into experiencing a total investment in the lives of his characters. Honestly, this story is Psych 101 with an erotic twist. I became entrenched in Nate and Ethan’s battles and wanted their happy ending, and it’s that level of engagement that makes me appreciate this author as a storyteller and allows me to focus beyond my inner proofreader to enjoy his stories for what they are.
You can buy Everything Between Us here: