Checkpoint by Kit Zheng – Review

Rating: 8/10 ★★★★★★★★☆☆ Title: Checkpoint
Author: Kit Zheng
Other Information/warnings:
explicit m/m
Summary [from the publisher]:

[sic] has had a rough couple of days, with his ex-lover leaving him in a very public way, and now his piercings are setting off the metal detectors at the airport. In fact, he’s set off so many bells and whistles that Officer Regan pulls him into a private room for a little inspection of what might trigger an alarm. Will Evern’s [sic] day get worse, or will a steamy encounter make him feel better than he has in a long time?

My review: Ah, a world hyper-vigilant of potential terrorism has wrought a lot of unpleasant things these day, one of them (and the least unpleasant by far) is the long security lines at airports and the surly TSA agents one has to face when something goes awry. And those lines are even worse when all you want to do is leave the unpleasant past–and an ex-lover who publicly humiliated you–behind. What more could possibly go wrong? Well…did you remember to take your Prince Albert and frenulum ladder out before you got in that line? It’s a little to late when Evren Ertegun realizes exactly what set off that metal detector and why Officer Regan is ready to wave his big wand at him.

The more I read author Kit Zheng’s work the more I find little nuances, and this charming story is no exception. It’s a very short story–coming in at under 9 pages–but it is one that is done exceptionally well. While there is little time in so few pages to build hugely dynamic characters, Zheng spends her time wisely, putting enough detail into her protagonist’s past life to give him some depth and some resonance and a personality that makes him appealing. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t some long drawn-out history with a little action thrown in. This is a nice, slice-of-life story that benefits immensely from the economical use of back story.

Zheng slips in the little details that make up a life, a person. For example, when the alarms first go off, Zheng weaves in that Evren is perhaps a bit past his prime, a very simple addition that lets the reader know how big a change Evren has just undertaken, how he might just be a little lost starting over again. Or when Officer Regan takes him in the back room for a closer security screening, how Evren nervously offers up, My parents were from Turkey. It’s a Muslim country but it’s really…I grew up here, I haven’t even been back. Just that little bit of stammered information adds another layer to the character. I was very, very impressed with how expertly and subtly Zheng was able to mix in so much detail with so few words…it’s all just light touches peppered here and there throughout the story.

Now you can’t accomplish everything in so short a story, and Officer Regan (spelled differently, I know, but I couldn’t help but get a chuckle out of the choice of name) is definitely more thinly drawn. Still, there’s enough there to differentiate him from Evren and to make him likable and appealing. As a result, the brief encounter is surprisingly erotic…because the characters have depth. Frankly, I wish my experiences with TSA had been so interesting.

Another trait I’m seeing now that I have read more of Zheng’s work is the humor that tends to run through her stories. The humor is definitely more in the background here (as opposed to her Roy LeRoy stories) and it gives the piece a slightly romantic, lightly comic feeling that is appreciated.

In the end, Zheng created an engaging, simple story and, wisely, she kept it simple. In a span of about seven minutes, I got some nicely drawn characters, a tiny bit of social commentary, some smiles, some arousing sex and a story that might just be about never being afraid of starting over. If Zheng can blend all of that into nine pages, shouldn’t we expect the same from longer works?