Cornbread Publishing, $3.99, 978-0997056266
Contemporary Romance, 2018
From the expansive entryway of the house, the sound of glass shattering echoed through the long halls. The heavy draperies in the office were still drawn from the night before. The house was cold – lifeless, as if the once-vibrant estate had been stripped of its soul and abandoned.
Winston’s heart faltered in his chest as he attempted to draw a full breath. He would have screamed, like a lion in the jungle who has made his kill, if only he could breathe.
That’s a dramatic opening scene. What happened? Did someone die in front the man? Did he just find out that he had narrowly missed winning a trillion dollar jackpot by one number? Well, don’t be disappointed, but Winston reacts that way because he is thinking about his boyfriend, who died in an accident. Apparently Parker handled everything about their life together when he was alive, while all Winston Makena had to do was to look pretty, so now lover boy here is pretty lost and hapless. He’s 32, and yes, he’s the designed boyfriend of our hero, Diego Castillo.
Diego came down to America illegally when he was about seventeen, and now he and his family run a landscaping business. He’s still an undocumented immigrant, so I can hear some folks screeching already about how it’s about time they finish building that god damned wall. Now 25, he meets rich clients who live openly with their husbands, and thus, when he meets Winston, he finally understands what the rumbling in his lawn is all about. But alas, his family is true blue conservative and the men in his family all ooze machismo, so the poor guy soon finds himself with this dilemma of staying in his family’s lawn or check out the grass on Winston’s.
Well, the core love story here is alright, but the execution has some serious flaws that are hard to overlook. The first half or so of this story is best described as overwrought: I know, Winston is grieving, but his constant flailing and heaving can be ridiculous. He’s like a cartoon soap opera character, and from the first page on, I can’t take him seriously at all. In fact, I often either roll up my eyes or giggle at his ridiculous antics – not the reaction the author is hoping from the readers, I’m sure.
And then there are the awkward similes. Just look at the excerpt above – if you are so shattered, will you scream like a lion who has just made a kill? That lion would be feeling exuberant, I’d imagine, hence the comparison will not apply to someone whose head is spinning 360 because of the dead boyfriend.
The author is also tad obsessed with descriptions. The characters here can appear to be robots capable of going to overacting mode and then abruptly switching to exposition mode. For example, Winston will be acting like Linda Blair’s character in The Exorcist, only twice more possessed, only to then pause and give me a detailed description of a female BFF’s perfume, clothes, and physical appearance like he’s serving up detailed fashion editorial realness, before resuming his wailing and clothes-rending. Oh, give me a break. How am I going to view these characters as believable people?
The second half of Diego’s Secret is less riddled with flowery descriptions of everything and anything – maybe the author has run out of adjectives and awkward similes – but this is also the section in which the author goes on a soapbox in ways that has me scratching my head. No matter which side I stand when it comes to President Trump’s proposed wall, an illegal immigrant is still an illegal immigrant. Having Diego take offense with the word “illegal” is like someone complaining that it’s rude to call a chicken a chicken – the author would have made a better case of showing me why we need to treat undocumented immigrants with respect and allow them to retain their dignity instead of just going the whole modern-day armchair social media activist way of telling me that this is bad or that is rude and that’s the end of it.
Indeed, much of the author’s efforts to explore heavier issues here such as the class divide between Diego and Winston, Winston’s own heritage, Diego’s own feelings and insecurities about his undocumented immigrant status, his ethnicity, and his family all feel superficial. Even inconsistent at times, in fact, such as how the author shows Diego’s home life in an unpleasant and unsanitary manner (a method to showcase how special Diego is compared to his uncouth brothers), only to later lecture Winston (and hence, the reader) about judging Mexicans negatively. Which is which, really?
Thus, Diego’s Secret is a bipolar kind of read. The first half is all LOOK AT ME, I’M SO DRAMATIC AND MY ARMS ARE FLAILING EEEEEEE while the second half is like a sloppy last-minute homework of some college kid who didn’t have time to do much research, but hoped that the superficial and excessive use of buzzwords and sweeping statements can mask the lack of depths in the assignment. No matter which half it is, the end result is still an unsatisfactory read.