Out of Nowhere by Roan Parrish
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
*To get the most out of this book, I highly recommend that you read Book 1 in the series “In the Middle of Somewhere.” This book aims to present the main antagonist in Book 1 as a sympathetic character and can best be appreciated if the series is read in order. I recommended that you do NOT read this review if you have not yet read or plan to read the book, or if you are sensitive to mentions of the following possible triggers: emotional abuse, physical abuse, rape, self-harm, and suicide. This is simply my take of the book. It is a different kind of review (more of a critique) than I normally write, but I just need to get the book out of my head.
I had high expectations for this book, since I was really impressed with “In the Middle of Somewhere,” Book 1 in the series. Unfortunately, I was dissatisfied with OUT OF NOWHERE. It was actually kind of depressing for me, and I didn’t get all those happy feels in the end. Instead, I felt that Colin’s issues weren’t completely resolved. I think partly because Colin’s love interest Rafe’s feelings and struggles were more told than shown I was more interested in Colin’s family’s dynamics and invested in Colin’s relationship with his youngest brother Daniel than the romance.
In Book 1, Daniel believed that his dad and older brothers didn’t love or approve of him. They were abusive, beat him up, and called him names. They treated him differently. Daniel didn’t feel welcome and safe at home, because he was gay. So, he left home the first chance he got. He was a smart kid and eventually escaped his situation by getting a higher education and a job as a professor. He doesn’t often call or keep in touch with his dad and brothers because their conversations are awkward and his attempts to connect with them are frustrating. He feels particularly alienated by Colin, who had beat him up when Colin caught him giving a blow job to a guy named Buddy, whom Colin knew from high school. Daniel was only thirteen at the time, so that experience impacted the way he perceived his brother as he grew up.
Near the end of Book 1, Daniel returns home for his father’s funeral, but doesn’t receive a warm welcome. It doesn’t seem as if much has changed, because his brothers are stuck in the life their father gave them. All Daniel’s three older brothers still work at their father’s auto shop, and Colin continues to stick up for their dad. In a pivotal moment in the book, at their father’s funeral, Daniel sees Colin in an intimate embrace with a man, and feels betrayed. He believes Colin was so mean to him growing up because Colin was ashamed of being gay. Yet, he felt sympathy for Colin, because coming out to their father would not have been easy for Colin and he suspected that Colin might have attempted suicide when they were younger. So, Colin was presented as a complex character, and I was very much interested in his story.
The first half of OUT OF NOWHERE effectively presented Colin as a sympathetic and complex character by showing his side of the story and humanizing him in various ways. In the opening scene, Colin is beat up by a gay guy in an alley because he received a blowjob but wouldn’t return the favor. Colin doesn’t regret his decision; he expects it. He goes to that bar time and time again because he hates himself, believes he’s a bad person because he hurts people, and feels ashamed of being gay. He doesn’t acknowledge that his father is emotionally abusive, and perceives his father and relationship with his father through a narrow lens. He looks up to his father, wants to make him happy, and is afraid of making him angry. He’s more concerned about taking care of his father’s feelings, especially after his mother died, than taking care of his own feelings, even if protecting his father’s feelings means hurting his brothers. His father is emotionally abusive because he only shows love and affection toward Colin when Colin is doing what his father wants. His father’s “love” is conditional, and a case can be made that his father’s love isn’t really love, but a way of manipulating and controlling Colin. When Colin sees how his father rejected Daniel and withheld his “love” when Daniel came out, Colin keeps his sexual orientation a secret because doesn’t want to lose his father’s love and approval. Though Colin bullied his brother because he was jealous of Daniel, Colin is very emotionally fragile and sensitive. Colin wanted to be like his father, but because he essentially has a good heart, he hated who he had become.
Needless to say, Colin has very low self-esteem. He’s also not very self-aware, because he isn’t able to see both in and outside himself. He is unable to process his emotions and buries them along with memories of a past trauma. His constant emotions are anger, shame, and self-loathing, and has developed unhealthy coping skills to survive and deal with these painful emotions, such as self-harm (cutting) and alcohol abuse. Self-harm and drinking numb the pain temporarily, and are not effective in his adulthood. Now, he copes by getting the shit beat out of him at gay bars. He has also attempted to commit suicide multiple times. He has panic attacks and OCD tendencies due to his severe anxiety. He has lived with all this pain and suffering for thirty-six long years, and because he is not self-aware has not sought treatment in order to process his emotions and painful memories and learn healthy coping skills. He has serious mental health problems, which I do not believe are examined or resolved responsibly in the novel.
Instead, Colin’s love interest Rafe is presented as a knight in shining armor and a catalyst for his change and personal development. By the end of the book, because Colin’s “healing” and redemption are heavily dependent on Rafe showing him love and compassion and on Daniel’s forgiveness, Colin still hasn’t achieved complete self-love and self-awareness. Colin’s happiness was previously dependent on his father’s love and approval. After his father died, it seems that now his happiness is dependent on Rafe’s love and approval. Though Colin’s brother forgives him, I felt that in order for Colin to truly heal and be a strong person he needed to forgive and love himself as well. I think I was supposed to feel sympathy or cry when Colin realized that he would never get a chance to come out to his father and find out if his father really loved him. Instead, I felt angry. I didn’t think Colin’s father deserved Colin’s loyalty. I didn’t think Colin should have cared so much about his father’s approval, because Colin’s father didn’t care very much about Colin’s happiness.
Rafe acted sort of as the intervention Colin needed to move forward in his life. It’s really quite a fantasy that a stranger could be attracted to and have compassion for someone as miserable, depressed, and self-hating as Colin. Not many people would give a shit about saving Colin’s life, especially because Colin pushes people away time and time again because he doesn’t believe he can fulfill their expectations, treat them with the kindness they deserve, and give them what they need. Also, people in real life aren’t usually as nice, perceptive, and sympathetic toward those who exhibit symptoms of a mental illness as Rafe is. Rafe’s presence in Colin’s life helps Colin to see that he’s not as bad a person as he thinks he is and gives Colin other things to live for. Colin’s self-esteem is improved when he volunteers at a gay Youth Alliance where Rafe works. This plot line shows Colin as a sympathetic character, because he’s not homophobic, though his actions toward Daniel appeared otherwise. The kids welcome Colin and look up to him, and for the first time in his life Colin feels like he’s somebody, like he’s special. Rafe is also involved in a program that donates books to prison inmates; Colin shows his kindness and thoughtfulness to one of the inmates in choosing her a book and writing her a letter hoping she’ll like it. Colin takes in and takes care of a stray kitten, whom he believes doesn’t love him as much as Rafe or Daniel. That kitten was highly effective in generating sympathy for Colin, because it showed just how much he yearned to love and be loved and how much love he was missing.
It seemed to me that Colin’s rape was also presented as a way to justify the time he beat up Daniel when he saw Daniel giving Buddy a blowjob. When Colin was in high school, Buddy made Colin have anal sex with him by threatening to tell everyone that Colin was gay. Colin felt conflicted and tried to put it off, but in the end he gave in to Buddy’s pressuring and threats. There was no prep, and it hurt, so Colin asked Buddy to stop, but Buddy didn’t. Colin wants to call it coercion, not rape, because he is unable to process what happened to him and denies it instead. However, he does exhibit symptoms of PTSD from the rape, has flashbacks and panic attacks when he remembers it, and declines from having anal intercourse with Rafe for several weeks. I felt that Colin’s shame about being gay, self-hatred, and fear of his father was so strong and pervasive that there was plenty enough reasons for Colin to be angry the time he beat up Daniel. In Colin’s reasoning, he was just trying to protect Daniel by teaching him how to defend himself and fight back. In Book 1, Daniel is shown to be a real scrapper, who can defend himself against bigger, stronger guys.
I don’t know if the rape was an intended plot line or if it was written to sort of excuse Colin for beating Daniel up. I don’t like it when rape is used as a plot device to generate sympathy for a character and to show their love interest as more of a hero. So, I felt very ambivalent about Colin’s rape backstory. There was already so much bad stuff in Colin’s life, so many issues he had to dealt with, that adding on rape was just too much. It was presented in the story, the characters expressed sympathy, and then, it was pushed back in Colin’s mind after he and Rafe had sex. So, the other thing I didn’t like was how Colin seemed to think that sex with Rafe fixed him. I also didn’t like how some of the BDSM aspects, like asphyxiation, came into play as a way for Colin to escape from his pain and emotions. Colin seemed to find the BDSM therapeutic. I suppose to each their own, but I thought Colin needed real therapy and treatment, especially when Rafe found out that Colin was suicidal. However, the novel seemed to suggest that Colin’s depression was situational and therapy would be ineffective because Colin was largely reluctant to seek and accept help.
The main stressor in Colin’s life was his father, so after his father died Colin was free to live his own life. I felt the emotional abuse, family dysfunction, and Colin’s self-loathing, as well as the consequences of Rafe’s incarceration, were more than enough conflict and issues to contend with. I liked Colin, and I really, really felt sad for him. I did like the book, and I like the author very much, but I felt ambivalent about the rape, untreated mental health issues, and BDSM.