Title: Ollie Always
Author: John Wiltshire
Publisher: MLR Press
Pages/Word Count: 217 Pages
At a Glance: Beautifully written, complicated story about finding oneself, and personal growth.
Reviewed By: Lindsey
Blurb: Sometimes there is a very fine dividing line between fact and fiction.
Named after the main character in his mother’s infamous Oliver novels, Ollie’s been fighting his fictional namesake his whole life. It’s a battle for identity he is slowly and inevitably losing. Ex-army PTI, Tom knows all about battles–the real ones that break soldiers. When he volunteers to help with the Oliver situation, Ollie hears more in the offer than Tom apparently intends, for Tom quickly informs Ollie that he’s married. Which is absolutely fine, because Ollie isn’t gay–that’s Oliver. Tom and Ollie discover fairly swiftly that there is often a very fine dividing line between fact and fiction.
Review: During the first chapter of reading this book, I figured there would be a lot of humor mixed with a little angst. But I quickly found that is not the case. This book was serious and had angst, with humor sprinkled in at just the right moments. The writing was phenomenal, and descriptions of the New Zealand countryside made it so I could easily picture every moment that took place. Ollie finds himself there, secluding himself and running from his mother’s fictional character, Oliver, and Oliver’s ever present shadow on Ollie’s life and interactions. There he meets Tom Collins, who he forms a friendship with and begins to allow himself to open up in a way he hadn’t before.
Each character is carefully crafted and is dimensional, with flaws and struggles in situations which they are navigating through and trying to overcome. And that is what this book is really about. From their initial meeting to the end of the book I was swept away in the beautifully written tale of two broken men attempting to find themselves and, while doing so, each other.
Ollie uses his humor as a shield, keeping him distant from forming any real relationships. He uses it to deflect from anything personal because he is in so much inner turmoil. He uses it to try to cope with the shadow of Oliver that has been with him from the moment he was conceived. My heart broke for him—for a child who seemingly had it all to the outside world growing up, to be a man with so much inner confusion as to his place in the world and who he was. Because of this constant confusion and circumstances he found himself in, growing up, Ollie was no longer sure who he was and whether he was following in Oliver’s steps or Oliver was following Ollie’s. He tries so hard to not be Oliver, he refuses to allow himself to be gay (like his namesake), and is constantly trying to deny parts of himself that are too close to the character his mother writes. At the same time it seems Ollie is unable to let Oliver go, to stop reading his mother’s novels, to stop comparing himself to his fictional nemesis, and Oliver’s presence in Ollie’s life influences everything Ollie does.
Tom is a bit of a mystery for a good portion of the book, it’s obvious he cares about Ollie, but he holds himself back often and runs hot and cold. An ex-soldier with a past that is tragic for completely different reasons. Though initially Tom appears to know himself and is confident, it becomes clearer that Tom has his own internal battle being waged as he slowly gives Ollie snippets of what growing up for him was like and we start to see through Ollie’s eyes the effects of Tom’s past experiences. It is apparent Tom wants to help Ollie, and wants to pull Ollie out of his self-pity by showing him other ways. But at the same time Tom has his own fight within himself which impacts his choices and actions, ultimately creating difficulties for them both.
We meet Ollie’s mother, who we see through Ollie’s eyes. He is constantly struggling with the relationship because he loves her, but he doesn’t know how to deal with the situation he finds himself in when she is around. His personal life situations find themselves similarly happening to his namesake, and vice versa. Because of this, Ollie’s relationship with her is strained and confusing. Ollie finds it hard to be in her presence, and even fears it, leading him to using less than ideal coping mechanisms. Tom is there to try to steer him to more positive options and ways of seeing and dealing with the situation. But you can only point someone in the right direction—they have to want the change within themselves.
This book is more than a romance. It is a complicated story about personal growth and the overcoming of one’s own insecurities, fears, choices, failures and harmful coping mechanisms. There isn’t any focus on sex-on-page. They are more or less suggested to, and the brief times there was physical intimacy, there was not much focus on the acts but rather the feelings associated with the moments, because sex was not the focus of the story, and I am glad for it. If the book had been mired with sex references and scenes, it would have taken away from the internal growth and a different kind of intimacy that was needed for both our MC’s.
I highly recommend this book for someone looking for a story focused more on the overall plot and character growth rather than on the actual romance, for those who enjoy reading a slow-burn and don’t need immediate resolution, and for those that can do without sex being a focal point. This book checked all the boxes I look for when reading a story in this particular genre: well-written ✔, intriguing plot line ✔, just enough humor to lighten the seriousness of the story ✔, complex well-written characters with flaws ✔, unexpected twists ✔, character growth ✔ and kept me engrossed in every moment occurring on page ✔.
**Side note: the blurb could leave one to think there is cheating and that may dissuade someone from reading for that reason. There is no cheating in this book, so if that is what has been holding anyone back, rest-assured you won’t find it here.
You can buy Ollie Always here: