Title: Vivaldi in the Dark: Box Set
Author: Matthew J. Metzger
Publisher: JMS Books
Length: 840 Pages
Category: Contemporary, Drama
At a Glance: This is a bit of a harrowing series but well worth the effort. Kudos to the author for doing such a brilliant job with a difficult subject.
Reviewed By: Sadonna
Blurb: VIVALDI IN THE DARK: Jayden’s course changes when he falls for dry violinist Darren. But all is not what it seems, and Jayden is confronted with a dangerous depression that has brought Darren to the edge more than once, and undoubtedly will again. Darren’s talent is his own undoing – until a mugging takes the music forcibly away, and Jayden has the chance to change Darren’s life and, quite literally, his mind.
THE DEVIL’S TRILL SONATA: Jayden is going to university. Dream-chasing and distance have Jayden thinking a break-up with his boyfriend is inevitable – but they’ve weathered worse storms, right? Wrong. As their relationship fractures, Darren’s depression strengthens — until one night, a rejected call, and drastic action. Too late, Jayden learns where his heart truly lies. The dream is over — and the reality is far, far worse.
RHAPSODY ON A THEME: Their relationship has been repaired since Darren’s overdose, but Darren has not. When two attempts at medication fail badly, his partner Jayden fears that the end of this depression will only come with the end of Darren himself. Until Darren is asked to play at Ethan’s upcoming wedding. As Darren slowly returns to the music that never quite left him, the shadows finally begin to fade.
Review: This box set contains three separate novels that were originally published several years ago. They chronicle the relationship of Jayden Phillips and Darren Peace, two teenage boys who, at first glance, appear to have absolutely nothing in common. Darren comes from money, goes to a good school and is a classical violinist. Jayden lives in a council row house, goes to the local school, and is very much unable to hide that he is gay. When Jayden comes upon Darren at a rehearsal at the town arts center, he’s smitten. He convinces Darren to participate in the play he’s writing, and they begin a sort of relationship. Jayden doesn’t know if Darren is gay or not, but he can’t help his attraction.
When Jayden realizes that Darren is bisexual, and seems to be interested in him, Jayden is beside himself. He doesn’t want to out himself to his parents, but he definitely wants Darren. Darren teaches him to stand up for himself, as Darren is a sort of take-no-shit kind of guy. He’s blunt and borderline rude at times, and he truly doesn’t seem to care what people think. He’s snarky and mischievous and loves to make Jayden blush. But he’s also got a secret—one he’s never shared. He has dark, dark days; depression has been a constant in his life for years. He’s acted on it before, and he feels like he has to be honest with Jayden. For all of Jayden’s head telling him he should just walk away, his heart won’t let him. The music and the violin seem to exacerbate Darren’s issues.
When Darren is attacked, he is forced to put down the violin forever, not such a bad thing in Jayden’s eyes. But the question is, will this help with the depression, or will things get worse? Only time will tell.
In the second book, Darren and Jayden are separated when Jayden takes a scholarship to Cambridge, and Darren takes a training position with the local police a couple hours away. Jayden is busy with school work and trying to fit in with his new posh schoolmates, and the distance seems much bigger than the miles between London and Southampton. Darren has rented a room, where one of the other tenants is a girl called Rachel. She’s a teacher’s assistant and has her own issues, but seems to take Darren in stride.
Jayden is so busy trying to fit in with his new friends that he has difficulty finding time for Darren. When Darren does come to visit, the new friends are quite condescending about Darren’s job, his lack of university degree, etc. The rift between them seems to get bigger. They do have a good Christmas, but things go back to tense. This book is told at least 50% from Darren’s viewpoint, which is very helpful in understanding exactly where he is coming from. The description of how he feels—or doesn’t feel anything—during the blackest of the depression is gripping and sad and heartbreaking. I can’t even imagine how he functioned.
After a disappointment for Darren and a trip abroad for Jayden, things seem to be a bit better after a visit to Southampton where they spend a week together. Jayden is still worried, however, about his schoolwork, his “friends” at Cambridge, Darren’s mental health—pretty much everything. But he keeps hanging on to making to the summer break.
Then everything goes wrong. Darren is in a very bad place. He knows he is and when he calls Jayden, his call is rejected. Seeing no reason not to do it, Darren takes drastic action and Jayden is shattered by guilt and worry and fear. Nearly too late, he realizes where his true loyalty lies. He’s loved Darren since he was sixteen, and he’s not about to stop now. Things need to change if he wants to keep Darren in this life and keep Darren alive at all.
The third novel takes place three years after the second. Jayden has finished his degree at Bristol and taken a job at the local paper. Darren is a crime scene investigator. They’ve bought a house together, and Rachel lives with them and pays the household bills since they can’t legally “rent” to her. All seems to be going pretty well at the moment. Not that it’s been easy. The previous year, Darren’s depression had gotten so bad they decided to try antidepressants—which only made things worse. As he starts to spiral down again, a new doctor decides to try him again on Prozac. But he again has a terrible reaction that scares both Jayden and Rachel.
As a last resort, the doctor decides to try anti-anxiety meds, and lo and behold, Darren seem to level off. When he begins to feel a spell coming on, it doesn’t quite materialize in the way it has before, and he gets through it with minimal disruption. Finally, they might be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. He’s not naïve enough to think that he’s cured, but he’s beginning to think me might be OK. Jayden is still skeptical and keeps a close watch on him, but he’s hopeful as well.
When Ethan, a boyhood friend from school, gets engaged and Darren is asked to be part of the wedding, he’s nervous about it since he’s asked to play the piano, something he’s put off doing for a while as the music has always had an effect on his mental state. But when he’s feeling a bit more balanced, he begins to write something for the wedding that seems to do the opposite. It might actually be improving his mood.
As the wedding approaches, both Darren and Jayden are feeling pretty positive, although Jayden still worries about how Darren will do with performing in front of people for the first time in years. Will he feel the pressure and will it bring on an episode? Will he be able to enjoy himself? You’ll have to read it to find out. 😉
This is the first I’ve read of Matthew J. Metzger’s work. I already had Vivaldi in the Dark, but when the box set was on offer for review, I decided I’d like to read the whole series. Let me just say that these books are quite impressive, especially for someone as young as this author. His ability to capture the heady rush of young love, the fear of realizing that all is not as it seems, the frustration of realizing you can’t fix someone, the acceptance that, for better or worse, this is it. I think he captures the impact of the depression from both the person dealing with the illness and those around them who love them. I can only think that he has had first-hand experience with this disease.
I have a family member who suffers from a serious mental illness and the medication disasters are real and frightening. It’s taken nearly five years and he’s finally back to the point of maybe being able to function and move on with his life, and down to two meds that seem to be handling the worst of his anxiety and depression symptoms. It’s a lifelong struggle. He’ll never be cured. It’s something that will just have to be managed like any other chronic illness.
This is a bit of a harrowing series but well worth the effort. Kudos to the author for doing such a brilliant job with a difficult subject. The more books like these that are written and read by people, the more we will have a better understanding of, and empathy for, those who continue to suffer. This was really a beautifully written story told in three novels of love that doesn’t necessarily overcome, but love that perseveres and supports. Bravo!
You can buy Vivaldi in the Dark: Boxed Set here: