Sometimes you get to read a book that makes you all gooey inside, “The Layover” is such a book

I don’t know what possessed Dreamspinner Press (DSP) when they refused Roe Horvat’s second story. I’ll get back to that in a while. Safe to say that I’m very pleased for my own publisher, Beaten Track Publishing, for picking it up though, particularly after reading Roe’s debut novella, The Layover, yesterday. But more about that and everything else further down. First the usual disclaimer: I received an advance review copy (ARC) to facilitate my review and the views are – as always – my own, and no one else’s, although I hope others will like this story as much as I do.

The cover of Roe Horvat’s debut, The Layover. Roe is also a skilled graphic artist by day.

Romance novels. Somehow, when you read & write gay fiction, you always need to relate to “romance”, that brightly shining sun at the center of the LGBT universe, although I sometimes think of the whole “M/M” monstrosity more like a black hole, swallowing everything that comes too close to it, or at least blocking the light of any other star trying hard to shine nearby. The Layover is dubbed a romance and judging from early reviews, others seem to think it is a romance. I’m not sure about the author’s views. But I can see why people can read it as a romance. Sadly, those readers miss an important point. The Layover is no romance. It is clearly gay fiction. The relationship between Ondro and Jamie, as it develops, is not at the core of the story, although you might think so. Evidence? The story doesn’t end when the boys seem to sail off into their HEA or happy for now. And what about Ondro’s inner journey? His struggle with […] and […] (read it, no spoilers) No, and without giving away too much of the plot, the ending is probably the most important part of the book. Remember the epilog in Jonathan’s Hope? Yeah, that kind of important.

I always hate to give away plot elements, so I’ll just leave you with the official blurb, because they always give you something, without really giving you anything, right?

Eight years ago, Ondro Smrek fled Slovakia and the bigotry that drove his first lover to take his own life. The demons proved impossible to outrun, though, and now, desperate for somewhere to belong, Ondro is returning to start over. During a layover in Basel, Switzerland, he meets Jamie, an American living in Scotland who is as brilliant as he is beautiful.

Jaded Ondro would never have guessed he could fall in love during a brief layover—until now. When he is put in a position to offer Jamie comfort without hope of recompense, Ondro doesn’t hesitate. Soon, he catches a glimpse of the home he longs for. But with their separation looming, confessing his feelings would only lead to pain and humiliation.

By the way, is it just me or why do some people still insist on calling our boyfriends or partners “lovers”? So degrading, as if all we ever do is fuck… Ondro and Peter were a committed couple for over two years. That’s hardly what I’d call a “lover”. I just hate that word. And I hate blurbs. Writing them is possibly worse than reading them…

It’s funny, how you read a book, and suddenly you find yourself knocked out of orbit, tumbling haphazardly through space. Lost, trying to grab a hold onto something, anything really, except maybe that black hole out there… While the plot of the story is relatively simple and straight-forward, the writing is brilliant, and I found myself envying Roe’s raw talent. What an amazing writer! Allow me to share a morsel:

“He was a breathing, talking oxymoron. The alcohol had this great effect on him—he said whatever came to his mind. Listening to him was enthralling. His head opened up, and everything was laid out on the table.”

True artistry is to come up with new, innovative ways of describing the mundane, or so I believe. What Roe does in this simple two-liner is nothing but sheer genius, combining the simplicity of straight forward everyday words with more unusual ones to paint a beautiful picture on her canvas. The last sentence is just “wow”. You may not agree, but I can virtually picture how Ondro sits across from Jamie and how the tipsy young man spills the beans about his life. Mind you, this is a debut, and English is not Roe’s first language. I bow my head to such talent.

Meet Roe Horvat, crazy author in their spare time, graphic designer by day, parent to two amazing kids and incidentally married to a Slovak…

I’m jaded, like Ondro, when it comes to love stories. I am soooooo done with the run of the mill romance where the author can’t seem to throw enough BS at the protagonists in between the (often) unrealistic sex scenes before they finally get their “release” into their HEA (happily ever after in case you’re not familiar with romance jargon). They lie to each other, there are constant misunderstandings and there is literally no trust. Every word is second-guessed to add to the thickening plot of “come on guys, get over it already!” I recently reviewed such a traditional romance, and while it had promise, neither the language nor the storytelling came anywhere near Roe’s, despite the author having great talent. But the rules of the romance genre are ruthless. I’m grateful that Roe defies those rules and told the story as it is.

There were a couple of instances toward the end of the story where I virtually sobbed. Per se not unusual. I’m a true Queen, and I love my tears, but what really moved me in the first instance was the straightforwardness of the characters and how they reacted. Unlike the romance, where we would have seen another turning point to build tension (a lie, a misunderstanding or what not), Jamie simply says what’s on his mind. Honest. Moving. A tear jerker. Mind you, there are misunderstandings, but they make sense, they come from that place we’ve all been to, when you’re in the middle of dating someone, in the middle of a budding relationship, and you’re not 100% sure of how to interpret the signals you receive from the other. Is he serious, or is he moving on? Any signal can be interpreted two ways. Is he interested or was it just for fun?

The Layover is published by Dreamspinner Press, the largest of the LGBT fiction, or should I say “M/M romance” publishing houses, and it releases July 19th. It is available for pre-order from the publisher, Amazon, et al. It clocks at 37,000 words and is therefore considered a novella. I know what some people might say, that it could’ve been longer, with more Jamie back story and what not, but in all honesty, I think this is just the perfect balance. Make it longer and it becomes a different book, and this is the story of Ondro, told from his unique perspective, and I quite enjoyed being in his head for a bit, seeing his tough outer shell and the soft core, the struggle to reconcile his upbringing and the difficulty of being raised in one of Europe’s most conservative countries, and the impact of the anti-LGBT referendum held in Slovakia in 2015.

I can’t understand how DSP would refuse Roe’s second novella, except that, apparently, it wasn’t romance enough. Well, neither is this, at least in MHO, but I’m glad that Roe gets the boost of having a debut published by a large publisher. It will certainly boost the authorship and help with the coming story that was picked up my own publisher, Beaten Track. Their loss for sure, although it probably made sense from a purely financial point of view. DSP knows romance like few others…

Anyway, I’m rambling. Pre-order The Layover today, you won’t regret it. I will return my attention to my cruise and today’s destination, Croatia, a country not unlike Slovakia with regards to LGBT rights and anti-LGBT referendums.

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