Review: Bender by Gene Gant

At nineteen, college freshman Mace Danner works as an escort, hiring himself out to customers who want a submissive they can dominate. Having no carnal urges himself, the sexual side of his job leaves him cold, but he sees the pain inflicted on him by his clients as punishment for causing his brother’s death when he was in high school. Pain is not enough, however, to wash away his guilt, and Mace starts binge drinking in an effort to escape his remorse.

The dorm’s resident advisor, Dex Hammel, sees Mace spiraling out of control and strives to help him. Despite the mutual attraction between them, Mace is disturbed that he still feels no sexual desire for anyone. Even with Dex’s support, Mace's self-destructive behavior escalates, leading to a situation that endangers his life.

A New Adult title appropriate for ages 16+

I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I chose this book. The blurb sounded twisted in a fantastic way and I was intrigued by the concept of an asexual masochist. However, Mace is not a masochist and this isn't a BDSM book. Mace blames himself for his brother's death and as penance he's become a male escort who specializes in "submission".

But it's not enough. It's never enough. So he keeps upping the stakes. I don't necessarily believe he's suicidal, but I think he has no concept of self-preservation. And nothing dulls his internal pain like external pain.

I was surprised by how much emotion and character depth Gant was able to achieve in a novella and impressed. I felt how isolated and lonely Mace was along with all of his self-loathing. I also felt the lassitude. He's pushed everyone that he ever cared about away and believes himself unworthy and maybe even toxic to others.

The further away I get from high school and college the easier it is to forget how difficult it can be to be different, to not fit in and while that's somewhat fashionable amongst the hipster generation everyone needs someone to understand them; it's the most important thing to Mace. His confusion and sense of alienation is the catalyst for a tragedy that becomes his own personal hell.

Until he meets Dex and Dex won't give up on him.

Dex is his friend and RA but he wants to be more, so he keeps hanging around, offering to talk, to be his friend and eventually Mace comes to trust him and, more importantly, finds comfort with him. I tagged it bisexual because he did have a girlfriend and some of his customers are female, but I'm really not sure if he's actually attracted to women or just grasping at straws out of his profound confusion over being asexual.

There is some chemistry between Dex and Mace, but I didn't really feel their connection as anything more than friends which is likely due to the length. I did truly appreciate that there was no magic cock and Mace sought professional help that was actually helpful, though I was disappointed that no one encouraged him to press charges against Wes.

The ending seemed a bit rushed and maybe too tidy, but I would definitely read something else by this author.

Recommend to fans of NA.

 Trigger warning:  assault, mentions of violence and some flashbacks.

An ARC was provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Find out more on Goodreads.

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