It’s not often that you get the chance to enter into an established author’s literary realm with no expectations. Usually, even when we haven’t read any of their work, we’ve heard enough about them to begin forming an opinion (unconscious or not). In the case of Rick R. Reed, I clearly knew a bit about the man (after all, I did interview him earlier this year), but what I knew was largely limited to his work in gay horror. With Tricks being his first full-length foray into gay romance, it seemed like the ideal opportunity to take that blind leap of literary faith – and I’m so glad I did.
Tricks is an amazing novel - a deeply moving story of the human spirit. On one level, this is a classic ‘opposites attract’ romance, a story of two men falling in love against all odds. Arliss is a street-smart young man, a teenage runaway who once sold sex, but who now sells its promise instead. Sean is older, white-collar, slightly nerdy, and on the rebound from a long-term relationship. There is an immediate connection between the two men, and the slow progression of their relationship is one of the book’s many charms, especially since the concept of dating, of taking things slow, is completely foreign to Arliss.
On another level, this is also a story of dreams . . . a cautionary tale of being careful what you wish for. Ever since he hit the streets, Arliss has always dreamed of becoming an adult film star. It’s not just about the sex – he’s already had that in droves – but about the celebrity factor and the sense of public accomplishment/acknowledgement. When an opportunity lands in his lap, he has to make a difficult choice between the career of which he’s always dreamt, and the romance for which he’s never dared hope. While it’s true there is no one right choice, there are very significant consequences for making the wrong one.
It’s here that Rick’s reputation as the “Stephen King of gay horror” creeps in to haunt the romance. Although it takes a while for it to be fully realised, he weaves in an eerie thread of anxious suspense that’s made up of awkward glances, chilling words, and shadows in the night. We’re on edge, ready for the worst, but we can’t begin to imagine where the danger is going to come from, or what form it might take. The combination of romance and suspense makes for read that is uncomfortable at time, but which serves to further engage our curiosity.
This is a story of real men, in real situations, in the real world . . . warts and all. There’s nothing pretty or perfect about the sex industry, as Arliss has experienced it, but it’s also not the all-consuming force of destruction some authors choose to portray. Arliss and Sean are men faced with real choices and, ultimately, it is they who shape the world of Tricks, not the other way around. They way in which they choose to resolve their situation is entirely satisfying, and the final line of the story is one of the most chilling 'happy endings' you will ever read.
If you choose to take that leap of literary faith with me, I trust we’ll be crossing paths again very soon as we wander backwards through Rick’s well-stocked bookshelves for another great read.