Thursday, July 18, 2019

Book Review: "Going Dutch" by James Gregor

There's often a tremendous amount of anxiety around being single. No one wants to be alone, especially when it seems as if all of their friends are coupling (or even throupling). But when date after date seems to go nowhere, how do we handle our feelings of jealousy, inadequacy, and fear that we're destined to spend the rest of our lives by ourselves?

This is just one of the crises plaguing Richard, the protagonist of James Gregor's debut novel, Going Dutch.

In addition to unrequited love for his flaky best friend, and a string of bad dates from dating apps, Richard is dealing with significant writer's block on his graduate thesis, which he must continue to make progress on or he'll lose his fellowship, which covers his tuition and living expenses. Certainly the fear of losing his funding and having to drop out of school should motivate him, but he can't seem to move forward.

When Anne, one of his classmates, offers to "help" Richard overcome his writer's block by writing his papers, it proves both a solution and a dilemma. All Anne really seems to want is his companionship, and her lifestyle is far more opulent than Richard's, so it seems like a fairly easy decision. His conscience nags him from time to time that he's actually committing academic dishonesty, but Anne doesn't seem particularly interested in his contributions, and she doesn't seem to mind doing the work.

The lifeline she throws him becomes a bit more complicated, however, as her desire for his company grows. She knows he is gay, but she's not interested at all in that aspect of his life. She wants more and more of his time, and doesn't like when she's not his singular focus. Richard can't exactly pinpoint how he feels about her—he's not romantically interested in her, but there's something about her he finds appealing.

"Anne's energy was jarring but invigorating, an inconclusive mix of maturity and immaturity. She was like a child let loose in the restraint and focus of an adult. But she was also like a mother who hands you a heavy towel and squeezes you after you've wrapped it around your shoulders, telling you to dry your hair because you lose heat through your head. At odd moments he found himself enchanted."

Things get more complicated when Blake, a lawyer with whom Richard had one frustrating date, suddenly reappears and is very interested in him. Richard is excited about the prospect of a relationship he has longed for, but how can he balance his desire to be with Blake with his obligation to spend time with Anne, given the academic hold she has over him?

Going Dutch definitely raises some interesting questions and provides timely social commentary on dating in the gay community. I just really didn't enjoy this book because I found every single one of the characters completely off-putting. While Gregor provides some insight into Richard's psyche, he is so manipulative and unappealing that I didn't much care what happened to him, and I felt the same way about Anne, Blake, Patrick, even Anne's periodic roommates.

I liked the way Gregor writes, but this book just didn't work for me, perhaps because I've known people whose behaviors and actions resemble those of some of the characters.

NetGalley and Simon & Schuster provided me a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!

This book publishes August 20, 2019.

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