Samhain Publishing, $4.50, ISBN 978-1-61923-446-8
Contemporary Romance, 2016
In what seems like a game of pairing off the spare, Vincent Lim – Vinnie, the guy who got dumped in Love Me Like a Rock – gets his just desserts when his one night stand with Bryan Latimer, a dance major, turns out to be more complicated than either bloke ever realized. And that’s basically it for the plot. Vincent isn’t one for relationships, so the whole love thing may take some getting used to.
My expectations of Hard Candy are admittedly low, as the other book in which Vinnie appeared had me rolling my eyes so much that everyone there could get trampled to death during an Adele concert gone wild for all I care. Here, however, things aren’t bad at all. It’s just that “aren’t bad at all” translates often to “cheesy and corny”, so you may want to check your ham threshold before you read this one. Things can get a bit melodramatic here, often crossing into maudlin or sappy territory, and I also cringe at some of the more Tumblr-ish sentiments present.
“What do you mean you don’t like Nicki Minaj?” Bryan had demanded, incredulity dripping from his voice. Clearly the previous week’s Minaj reference had been more than accidental.
“She’s kind of scary. And so…” Vinnie trailed off because Bryan’s hands were on his hips, his eyebrows lowered and his jaw tight.
“Fierce? Fabulous? Intelligent as hell and not afraid to tell it like it is?” Bryan snapped his fingers two inches for Vinnie’s nose.
Vinnie tried not to flinch.
“Nicki Minaj takes no prisoners and takes no shit,” Bryan said firmly, nodding once. “We are going to sit you down and learn you something, Vincent.”
Yes, I know there is a segment of fruit fly ladies who live on Tumblr and believe that Nicki Minaj embodies feminism, but come on. My anaconda don’t. Besides, does she still command the pink pound? I thought those gay boys have moved on to Adele and Carly Rae Jepsen.
Incidentally, Vinnie describes Bryan as a “femme”, but here’s the thing – if Vinnie didn’t mention that, or some blokes didn’t call Bryan “swishy” and “girlfriend”, I wouldn’t have noticed. That’s one problem with this story: it is quite superficial, with the author often sticking labels to her characters without attempting to flesh them out more. Or maybe that’s the point, considering the author’s very obvious embracing of superficial label and identity politics in her stories? This is a femme black dude – now give the author three cookies for playing lip service to diversity, three for the price of one, and let’s overlook the fact that the swishy black gay dude is as flat a character as can be. Poor Bryan is just a stump with three labels stuck on it. The author’s treatment of femmephobia through Bryan is so simplistic that it’s almost insulting.
Vinnie is better fleshed out, and this story is short enough that his issues with commitment never feel dragged out for too long. But he has issues with anal sex – the poop, the fear that he’s hurting the other guy (don’t laugh and don’t even start with the Asian genitalia jokes – the author and her fans will not approve of such insensitivity) – and those seem to go on and on. Oh sheesh, isn’t that what enemas are for? I’m not a sexually active gay bloke and even I know of those things, so I’m surprised someone like Vinnie wouldn’t even think about that option. Ironically, the word “douche” does pop up here, but in a different context.
Ultimately, Hard Candy is readable but it is also superficial, lazy, and forgettable. It’s all about labels – you’re femme, I’m Chinese, and we’re just ticking off boxes in the diversity checklist – but things never develop beyond these superficial labels. The author is actually more concerned about getting her boys into sexual situations and getting them to mouth sentimental stuff to one another, and all those superficial labels and checklist-ticking seem to be included so that the story can be passed off as something more… relevant and important than it actually is. At the end of the day, it’s still all about us getting our jollies from reading about hot boys getting it on, so read it for that and not for anything else.