“No one can change a person, but a person can be the reason someone changes.” ― Shannon L. Alder
Being gay in a rural Pennsylvania town isn’t easy, just ask Michael. He’s trapped in a small life, in a small town, in a dead end job, with a grandfather, Pete, who has the dubious honor of being the town drunk. Michael’s stuck in a life he never intended to live, as he has slowly watched his big dreams wither and die under the weight of his even bigger responsibility to care of his grandpap. Michael had dreams at one time that would have taken him places and shown him new things, but now those dreams only lead him to a place called Regret.
Michael does leave Hickory every so often, when his life begins to feel like it’s choking him off from the actual living part of it, and travels, if you can call it that, to the big city of Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is where he goes to find sex when he can manage to get away from Pete for a few hours, which isn’t nearly often enough, given the frequent lapses Pete takes into an alcoholic stupor. But finding another gay man in Hickory, well, that would be nothing short of a miracle for Michael.
But sometimes, you know, miracles do happen.
Eric is the new curator of the Western Pennsylvania Model Railroad Museum, and he’s the last person anyone would expect to find in Hickory—he doesn’t exactly blend. Not that he tries to stand out at all, but let’s just say he looks like one of them hippie tree-hugger types, though he takes his new job—and his history—very seriously, which is how he and Pete form a connection that changes Pete’s life and unwittingly draws Michael into his sphere.
Michael’s and Eric’s attraction to each other is immediate and powerful enough that their first meeting leads to a full-body-contact groping session right there in the storeroom at the museum, nearly under Pete’s nose. Their “relationship” starts out in a strained push me/pull you, back and forth, yes/no/maybe-so battle of wondering how much they ought to hold back and how much they want to ride the rails of this relationship train and see where it takes them.
But there’s fear there, and some baggage, and an obligation that’s holding them back, and when Eric tries to impose his will upon Michael in an effort to convince the man not to give up on his dream of becoming an architect, it drives a wedge between them they must either overcome or let it push them on in their separate ways.
Libby Drew has painted a lovely picture of a Western Pennsylvania landscape, a place it was fun visiting in my imagination, though I’d never want to live there in this place where news travels faster by word-of-mouth than it could hope to via any social media. This is a romance that addresses some familiar themes, but is set against a unique backdrop that added some very nice touches to the story.
There were some things in Bending the Iron that prevented it from being a truly exceptional read for me, however, one being I felt that Pete’s “recovery” was far too over-simplified for the sake of moving Michael’s story, and his relationship with Eric, quickly forward. It felt like a bit of an easy out to me that might’ve offered some weightier conflict and complications to the story were it expanded a bit. And while on the subject of Pete, what felt very much like his all-too sudden acceptance of Michael’s homosexuality after years of ignoring that Michael is gay was a bit of a stumbling block as well, and is also something I’d have liked to have seen explored a bit more.
Michael and Eric’s relationship is one that begins and builds on physical attraction and plenty of lust, which isn’t a problem as long as I get supporting dialogue between the characters along the way to build the relationship and make it about more than the physical. The old cliché says actions speak louder than words, and there were some truly romantic gestures in the book that I very much liked, but I’m also a huge fan of good conversation to help tell a story and move it forward, and I felt it was missing. This is not an insta-love book, but it is an insta-lust book that needed a bit more depth for me to buy into and connect with to help endear me to Michael and Eric’s romance.
This really is a quiet little book set in a sleepy little town, with a little conflict thrown in for good measure but is not at all an angst-ridden story. If that’s exactly what you’re look for, you might want to give this one a try.
Reviewed by: Lisa