Thursday, June 28, 2012

REVIEW: Portside by Elyan Smith

I have to be honest, this was a difficult read for me. The setting was rather ugly and depressing, a small-town on the verge of collapse, filled with people absolutely bereft of hope. The characters were a reflection of their environment, drifters and loners trapped, like the town itself, between their dreams and their vices.

And yet, Iwan somehow managed to work his way into my heart, begging my sympathy, and eventually earning my respect.

Portside is the story of a young man, addicted to gay porn and masturbation first, and to cigarettes and beer second. While he craves the touch of a certain young man down by the docks, his lack of experience leaves him reluctant to approach. Rather than claim the pleasures so freely available at home, he chooses to seek out a gay escort and pay for it in town, before returning home to accept those pleasures as an equal, rather than as an inexperienced virgin.

This is not what I would necessarily call an erotic read, but Iwan's hotel room rendezvous is extremely sexual. It is tentative and awkward, but also sincere in exploring his sexual hunger. Not content to be the submissive young virgin, he makes it clear what he wants, and then takes it. I quite enjoyed his sexual awakening, and even if I had hoped for it, his intimate revelation following the experience came as quite the surprise.

Yes, Iwan frustrated me with his complacency. Between his drinking and smoking, his strained relationship with his mother, and his refusal to take on the petty (yet paying) jobs available, I saw in him just another loser looking for an easy ride. I wanted to turn away, to dismiss him for his attitude, but there was something about  his sense of sexual purpose that made him attractive. Part of me wished he would put half as much thought and effort into finding a job as he did finding a sexual partner, but when his secret was revealed . . . I suddenly understood.

I would love to say more about that aspect of the novel, but it is something to be explored and discovered naturally, as the author intended. It does not completely redeem Iwan, but it does help to explain his situation, and to validate his sincerity. It is still a rather gritty tale of people I am sure I would not want to associate with off the page, but it is also a tale of people making the best of a hopeless situation.

[Reviewed by Bobbi]

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