Almost like being in love by Steve Kluger – review

Rating: 10/10 ★★★★★★★★★★ Title: Almost like being in love
Author: Steve Kluger
Genre: Comedy romance
URL: Amazon
Price: US $13.95
Other Information/warnings: none
Summary [from the publisher]:
A high school jock and nerd fall in love senior year, only to part after an amazing summer of discovery to attend their respective colleges. They keep in touch at first, but then slowly drift apart.Flash forward twenty years.

Travis and Craig both have great lives, careers, and loves. But something is missing …. Travis is the first to figure it out. He’s still in love with Craig, and come what may, he’s going after the boy who captured his heart, even if it means forsaking his job, making a fool of himself, and entering the great unknown. Told in narrative, letters, checklists, and more, this is the must-read novel for anyone who’s wondered what ever happened to that first great love.

My review: I discovered The Beatles about ten years after they broke up. I heard Lennon died a week after he got shot. And I’m four years late in discovering the genius of Steve Kluger as expressed in his wonderful, funny and utterly engrossing novel, Almost like being in love. I owe a friend who ordered the book from Amazon, had it sent to her in Russia, and who then posted it to me in Australia – making it the most travelled book in my possession (except for the other novel she sent me, review coming), and possibly one of the most expensive for what it is.

But it’s worth every damn cent.

This incredibly witty and warm story is the kind of book which makes the world a better place. Forget this being about gay guys. This is about love, and friendship, and relationships, and the people who support us through our tribulations. Also baseball, which was the bit I connected with least, but hey, you can’t have everything. But it’s mostly about Travis and Craig, and their wonderfully funny and loyal friends. Every character in this is a standout. Travis is OCD, and a real sweetheart – mad, brilliant, neurotic and determined, obsessed with baseball and history, and prone to extravagant methods of catching the attention of men he fancies. He drives people insane, and makes them fall in love with him forever. He’s the one who never found happiness after Craig, never found the right man, the ideal boyfriend, and it’s his realisation that he has to go back to where it started, that gets everything rolling – but we’re a good way into the book before that even begins.

Craig is a mover and shaker, a lawyer committed to personal rights, in love with a decent, faithful and supportive man, apparently happily settled. His partner Clayton is steady, doesn’t like change, and is deeply committed to his lover – he’s the kind of man every mother would want their son or daughter to bring home. He and Craig are truly happy, as married as two gay men can be. Yet when Craig suspects Travis is about to re-enter his life, he can’t help but be glad to have a chance to settle a chapter in his life, with the first man he ever fell in love with. That this coincides with conflict with Clayton and potential huge changes in this life, means Travis might just have a chance with him.

Their story is told in letters, memos, checklists, legal reports, assignments, newspaper clippings, diary entries and emails between them and their friends, students, acquaintances, business colleagues and to each other. It’s laugh out loud funny without degenerating into silliness, though Travis manages to get himself into some farcical situations, and the humour is crisp and fast, kind of like John Cusack on crack. Craig’s law partner and best friend, Charleen, adds a blunt, common-sense flavour to the novel, and a precocious boy from a broken home has some of the best lines.

There’s too much going on in the plot to summarise, but it’s not confusing or difficult to follow, even though it skips back and forth between Craig and Travis’s teenage years, the recent past and the present, mirroring Travis’s manic search for love and happiness, and his crazed approach to just about everything. The story also doesn’t end how you think it will, and pulls off the difficult trick of squaring Craig and Clayton’s real love for each other with Craig and Travis’s lifelong devotion.

The writing is simply terrific – masterly, in fact – and I fell in love with Travis, Charleen and Noah. Craig, I had reservations about because I liked Clayton so much and didn’t want to see him hurt. Fortunately, the author gives these lovely people the happy and dignified futures they deserve.

Almost like being in love is about second chances, and the intensity of your first real love, a memorable romance, and a remarkably humane piece of writing. Unequivocally and joyfully recommended.