Author: Noah Willoughby
Pages/Word Count: 195 Pages
Rating: 4 Stars
Blurb: Though surrounded by people on a daily basis, Chuck is a miserably lonely man, desperately seeking companionship and affection. Not only does his shy personality make him reluctant to approach others, but he also harbors a secret side of himself that he’s tried to suppress and forget for many years. This secret side fills him with a kind of self-loathing, and he unknowingly makes himself unapproachable to others around him.
However, this all changes when he befriends Bjorn, a charismatic and worldly young man who opens Chuck’s eyes and allows him to accept his true identity. This ultimately places Chuck in an awkward position of trying to maintain his relationship with Bjorn in a separate, hidden life while at the same time keeping up a false front in the rest of his daily life.
Dilemma is an unconventional love story that exposes the intense difficulty in coming to terms with one’s true self and the painstaking actions taken to keep a second life hidden from the world. While the truth can sometimes hurt, it doesn’t compare to the pain of living a lie.
Review: Noah Willoughby’s Dilemma was an interesting read. I should begin by telling you that I could not step away from this book for long, and the reason for that did not stem from some deep emotional attachment to the characters. In fact, the lack thereof was my main struggle with this novel. You see, this was told in narrative form, by a nameless person who watched and remarked upon everything our main character, Chuck, did and thought about and worried over. Interspersed with these passages was the meat of the story, the scenes where we listened in on Chuck’s interactions with his wife, Amanda, and his boyfriend, Bjorn. All in all the style of delivery was not as strange or disjointed as you may imagine. On the contrary, I found it compelling, fascinating to read, and it held my attention the entire way through.
Dilemma is the story of a middle-aged man who has suppressed his natural tendencies for the sake of getting along after surviving horrible childhood and high school years. Neglect and strict religious sanctions from his parents, along with bullying in his first year of high school, formed what Chuck became—a deeply closeted man who was a mere shadow of himself by age 41. Trapped in a loveless and shallow marriage, Chuck turns online and connects with a man twenty years younger than he, but mature beyond his age. Bjorn sees so much in Chuck, more than the older man fails to see after being left on his own for so long. Slowly but surely, Chuck begins to change, experiences joy—real joy for the first time—and slowly falls in love.
However, Chuck has avoided telling Bjorn that Amanda is not a roommate but his wife, and Amanda is demanding to understand why Chuck is so changed. As days fly by, Chuck finds himself more and more aware of the ticking time bomb that is his current situation. He must tell Bjorn if he is to have any kind of life with the man and Amanda deserves to know he is considering divorce. But Chuck’s concern that he will ultimately lose everything and everyone once the cat is out of the bag is real, and the truth may sever any chance of a life he so greatly desires with Bjorn.
Author Noah Willoughby’s narrative allows for an almost antiseptic character analysis to take place. At the same token, by having an unknown voice give overarching commentary on what Chuck, Bjorn and to a lesser extent, Amanda felt, and remind us of the consequences of their actions, it allowed for the reader to intimately see the thought processes these characters had throughout the story. It also allowed for the reader to form their own opinion without being emotionally swept up into who was right and who was wrong. All the characters were damaged in some way, needing something from the other.
I was amazed at how easily I took to this format. While I will admit that the style made it more difficult to connect emotionally with Chuck and Bjorn, I also felt I was drawn into the story more effectively. The story had good pacing and it was a compelling read. I wanted to find out how Chuck would resolve this triangle he had created and if, once again, he would lose what he finally was willing to admit he needed. Noah Willoughby shows real promise as a new author. I would like to see him tackle a more intimate story—one where the characters spoke for themselves and had more interaction one on one. I would definitely read this author’s work again. His prose is intelligent and well written. I look forward to seeing what he publishes next.
You can buy Dilemma here: