Review: What It Looks Like by Matthew J. Metzger
Rob Hawkes is six feet of muscle, tattoos, and arrest warrants. A career criminal and a former guest of Her Majesty's Prison Service, he'd rather hit Eli's parents than sit down to dinner with them. One wrong move, and Rob could destroy Eli -- and his family -- without a second thought.
But this isn't what it looks like.
Rob's not in control here -- and Eli's the one to blame.
One of my favorite reads of this year. This book is awesome. Period.
My first reaction when reading the first pages of this book was feeling the irresistible temptation of hitting myself in the head with a rock.
Yes, I’ve always been a little extreme.
See, Metzger is not a new author for me. I read one of his books a long time ago, Vivaldi in the Dark, and fell in love with his style. But, for some stupid reason, I didn’t stay true to my promise, and I kept letting him pass.
Again and again.
When I finally decided to give him a chance, it was because of the cover and the blurb, which sounded kind of fun and sarcastic and the prospect of lots of sexy scenes seemed to be quaranteed.
Those were stupid motives, I do know that now.
This book is of the special kind.
Not of the shallow laugh-and-forget kind.
I can’t begin to describe how perfect this is. It reminds me of my dear Stockholm Syndrome, by Richard Rider, and that sounds the opposite of reassuring, I know. Only this is a much more balanced (and healthier) relationship. Shocking as it is, the characters really do play the part, they are really good for each other, make each other feel safe and cherished and loved and valued.
It was painfully obvious, this constant ache and yearning.
And still it was so funny and it only complied me to keep reading and reading.
I think that’s the best thing you can say about a book. That you are so into the characters’ skin, into the narrator’s voice, that your life stops existing for those hours in which everything is just… perfect.
No, it’s not yoga.
Something funny happened to me here. I’d never read a transgender story before. It’s not that I have a tendency to avoid them (but I do), but I never dared to make the big step. I supposed it wasn’t my cuppa, for the same reason mystery or cross-dressing are not my cuppa. Here I didn’t expect the topic to arise (yes, I know, I should read the blurbs more closely, but in the end I focus on what the story makes me feel rather than what it’s really about, once the doubts are silenced) so when Eli speaks the truth I was as stupefied as the next man. But everything began to make sense. The author subtly led me to the idea that something was not entirely “average” about Eli, but no explanation was provided until very far into the story. When that “little” fact was uncovered, it was a surprise, but it was not a shock.
So my cherry popped in the sweetest of ways, without me looking for it, and without forcing the situation in the least.
A few months ago I met a little boy with gender dysphoria. It was one of the most precious and profound interviews I have ever seen, I could barely breathe with what I was hearing and seeing, and it made me aware how amazing being a child psychiatrist is. It’s an art, you have to avoid all kind of explicit questions, you apparently go around in circles “guiding” the kid so to make him speak his mind by his own accord. That is the way it’s done with abuse cases, too. Inserting ideas in a child can lead to the creation of untrue facts and that can be proof enough to dismiss the whole denunciation.
Anyway, in this occasion it was the other way around. She felt like a girl. She wanted to be a Frozen princess, like half the girls her age. She wanted to have long hair in order to get it braided. All her friends in pre-school were girls. Her bedroom was pink. She said her boyish name was ok, but she would prefer a Disney girl name. She was too young to really gasp the reality of what she was experiencing but she already knew something was not entirely alright with herself.
I do know the conflict is much more meaningful than that, but the signals were there already, at such an early age. There was little doubt about it, after a whole year of appointments. Her mother was very understanding and wanted to make all the process of growing up the most natural and the least traumatic possible for the kid. She was scared but determined. The father was not that accepting. They were in divorce proceedings.
She was beautiful, and I only wanted to hug her. Not just because of some sort of maternal instinct or whatever (although I must admit there are very cute kids out there), but because immediately afterwards, I was sad. I just remembered the news of a 17-year-old trans who commited suicide a few months before because she couldn’t bear all the bullying at school. She had had the complete support of her mother and had already gone through the breast surgery, but she never managed to complete her transition.
So I felt hope that this time, this time everything would be alright. That the 17 teenager died, but that Frozen princess would come to the other side safe and sound.
Maybe I’m an over-sentimental fool, but that’s how I felt.
So this little gem was a gift in other senses of the word, too.
Harsh reality indeed, and this book doesn’t beat around the bush, which I appreciate. Eli suffered isolation if not rejection at school, and the situation at home is not ideal, either, as Eli’s parents still struggle with the fact their daughter is in fact a son. All of this takes a toll on Eli.
Rob is just the total opposite. Rob is freedom and exhilaration and acceptance.
This book is also challenging in another aspect. Eli and Rob have been together for 6 months already. I don’t usually like books with relationships that are already stable. It’s not something I hate per se, it’s just that I usually don’t feel the connection, the “je ne sais quoi” that makes it believable and vital for me. This time I didn’t need any push nor explanation, I just let myself being carried by the words, by the dynamics of this unusual pair.
I was struck by Eli’s authencity. His serenity and his self-possession, his loyalty and his fierceness, his naughtier side and his sweet words. But also his wild façace and his claws when they need to be shown, to protect what is his, and to fight everything that comes between himself and Rob, even Rob himself. He's a voice to behold. His perspective was insightful and enlightening. I particulary loved his way of being kind towards Rob but with the necessary steel beneath to dominate the situation when it goes emotionally out of hand.
Because Rob is more vulnerable than it seems. It was one of the reasons why I loved him so much.
If I adored Eli, I was even more dumbfounded by this tattooed ex-con with a cause, rough around the edges, who has not led an easy life. Bad attitude, bad education, and bad vibes rolling off him, he’s not exactly the best choice to introduce to your parents, above all when they are both on the most righteous side of the law, chief policeman and forensic specialist, to be precise. Rob won my heart with his real self, the one hidden from the world. The one Eli sees and fell in love with.
Still, that was nothing to compare with Rob’s endless devotion and surrender when I finally got to know what Eli’s ‘weirdness’ is about. Even when the mystery is unfolded, there was still so much more space and time for surprise.
Nothing is what it looks like.
These two characters are joined together with super-glue and I couldn't see the extent of that, the botton of that. Because it floods and soakes everything they touch. They loved and lived for each other and there were no limits for that.
The BDSM aspect blowed my mind. It’s pretty hot the idea of the bad guy being the submissive, whereas the skinny trans guy mandhandles him when the mood strikes. But it was even better seeing how Rob worshippes Eli with all his might. He doesn’t understand the first thing about dysphoria, why Eli is so sick of his own body beyond not liking wearing high-heeled shoes. He just knows Eli feels like that, and, as he loves Eli, that’s just reason enough to believe in him, to comply and make his dreams come true, to support him no matter what, and to bend and protect him from whoever hurts him. To cherish him even though Eli doesn’t consider himself ‘himself’ yet.
Do not expect a sappy reading here, although there are loads of gentle moments and cuddling, and I’m a sweet-cuddling junkie. I was surprised by the amount of “fucks” and “fuck you” and “fuckings” I found. If you can’t stand word repetitions, this may fed you up. It seemed a Tarantino movie or a Guy Ritchie comedy. Rob is a bad-ass from a bad-ass background, and he is not shy in demonstrating this fact, he doesn’t precisely have a mouth filter or a non-impulsive mind. The same goes to his brother Danny, an interesting character I would have liked to know more about. I didn’t mind the “fucks” as much as the mobile phone messages, which sometimes gave me headaches trying to decipher them. I’m not trained enough to read hieroglyphs, mind you.
All in all, Rob prefers rubbing his bad-guy vibes in Eli’s parents’ faces rather than behaving as a polite boyfriend would in a family dinner. But Eli doesn’t let him cross certain limits. Not exactly a tight leash to make him act as someone he’s not, but he’s not scared of keeping him in line and deal with the consequences if Rob doesn’t obey.
And sometimes Rob doesn’t behave very well.
But he always has Eli’s interests at heart.
IDK if I was clear with my little speech but I do recommend this book.
(PS: paella packets are a sacrilege. I have never crossed myself but here I felt like doing so at the mention of such.)
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