Author: A.F. Henley
Publisher: Less Than Three Press
Pages/Word Count: 200 Pages
At a Glance: I can’t profess to reading all of AF Henley’s books, but I can say I’ve not read one yet that has disappointed.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: In 1974 Gerry Faun gets the break of his life—an opportunity to meet gorgeous, openly bisexual, glam-rock idol Mark Devon. Mark’s world is new, exciting, and Gerry finally gets to explore the side of his sexuality that he’s kept hidden. But the press is everywhere, and when Gerry’s father gets wind of what’s going on behind his back, Gerry ends up on the street. Mark offers to let Gerry come along with the tour and Gerry jumps at the chance. The tour is a never-ending party—and the start of what seems to be a perfect relationship for him and Mark. Until Mark’s manager decides Gerry isn’t worth the trouble he’s stirring up.
In 1994 Gerry is finally coming out of some tough times—he has a job that pays the bills, a car that hasn’t quite broken down, and a small rental in Jersey City. After a decade of barely getting by, if life was as good as it was going to get, Gerry figures he’ll manage just fine. It would be easier if he wasn’t still haunted by the man the media won’t let him forget, the man who stole his heart and then broke it… the man that’s shown up pleading for a second chance.
Review: There are so many things I simply adored about A.F. Henley’s Baby’s on Fire. It’s a story of redemption and second chances, at its heart—not necessarily a new motif in romantic fiction, but the circumstances around which Gerry Faun and Mark Devon loved and lost were unique to them, a bit nostalgic and even somewhat tragic, and that, I very much enjoyed.
At the tender age of twenty, in 1974, Gerry finds himself star-struck by glam rocker Maxx Starlight—think Ziggy Stardust—Mark’s on stage persona. The genesis of Gerry and Mark’s relationship revolves entirely around a chance sexual encounter, one that eventually leads to Gerry losing his family, though Gerry quickly becomes immersed in Mark’s world: an unfortunate calamity of drugs, booze, facade, and duplicity perpetrated by those who are out to use and manipulate the superstar for their own gain.
This story, however, opens in 1994. Gerry, by then, has hit middle age, works a rather mundane 9-to-5 office job, though it pays the bills, and hasn’t seen or heard from Mark Devon in twenty years. Gerry is barely avoiding tumbling over the precipice into a lonely and miserable existence. The reader is engaged from the outset by living his story backwards through flashbacks, as we see an older Gerry juxtaposed with his younger and far more idealistic self. The effect this narrative choice has on the novella is twofold; it teases the story out, the reader knowing the romance between Gerry and Mark had not only failed but failed epically, as well as the added advantage of having the opportunity to see Gerry’s hope and optimism decay toward the disillusionment he still carries around from a past he can’t seem to escape. Nor, in fact, does it seem he really wants to. In these flashbacks, we watch the gradual realization that Gerry’s not only out of his element in Maxx Starlight’s stratosphere, but that he’s also in love with a man who doesn’t seem to know exactly who he is when out of the spotlight. There’s a bit of a “kill your heroes” lesson learned as Gerry, who is at first awed and worshipful of the glitter and glamour Maxx exudes, sees the image tarnish by degrees while he learns his love for Mark doesn’t shine nearly as bright as the money and the stardom.
As the bitter overtakes the sweet from present to past and back to the present, the past comes back to call on Gerry, a call he’s none too happy or willing to answer. Mark is looking for forgiveness and another chance to do right by the man he’d betrayed two decades before, a private failure that overshadowed nearly every surface of his public success. This was the point of total emotional engagement in the story for me, as Henley doesn’t make this reunion in any way easy. Gerry harbors so much hurt and resentment toward Mark for abandoning him in what he came to believe was their one-sided love affair, a resentment we eventually see as the pain of that abandonment seeping through the knowledge he’d never truly stopped loving his betrayer.
While the greater part of the resolution of conflict between Gerry and Mark takes place off-page, something I’d have preferred to see play out in more intimate detail, the satisfaction comes from those twenty years not simply being swept under the proverbial rug. While we don’t see the slow repair of Gerry’s heart, we are given a timeline of the building of this new and more solidly grounded relationship, which eventually leads to a sweet and heartwarming end.
I can’t profess to reading all of A.F. Henley’s books, but I can say I’ve not read one yet that has disappointed. Baby’s on Fire is no exception, and would recommend it when you’re in the mood for a not-quite-contemporary, not-quite-historical romance that makes its couple work for their happy ending.
You can pre-order Baby’s on Fire here: