Review of In the Middle of Somewhere

In the Middle of Somewhere by Roan Parrish. Dreamspinner Press. 2015.

In the Middle of SomewhereI just finished my second read of this m/m contemporary city mouse moves to the country and falls for country mouse romance. It turned out to be a better reading experience for me this time around, partly because I knew all the triggering bits and could skip them as I read, and partly because I adore Small Change to pieces and this has a shared timeline and shared characters and I really liked encountering them again in this story. It felt cozier to me this time, to read Daniel’s arc, and see the intensely armored trauma survivor hero slowly build trust with his love interest. (The cozier may be partly because I skipped all the detailed accounts of trauma.)

This book does something I find to be a common trend in queer romance, especially m/m romance, that I think of as the queer misery backstory. These stories often include detailed descriptions of queer and trans hatred and violence, along with lots of self loathing. These are stories where the main obstacles between the lovers are shaped by the MC’s history of surviving queer and trans hating misogynist violence, queer and/or trans panic, rejection/abandonment/abuse by loved ones, and/or suicidality. Most of their core actions and choices are driven by trauma, fear of violence and internalization of queer and trans hatred and misogyny. In addition to detailed accounts of violence in the past, there is often violence within the timeline of the story, whether it’s a meet-cute as the result of a bashing, or violence that draws the lovers closer together as one of them comforts the other afterward. It’s more than your usual hurt/comfort story, its a story that roots the hurt in the character’s queerness.

This is Parrish’s debut m/m romance, the first in a series. And while it does have a queer misery backstory in a rather intense way for both MCs, and includes violence in the present day, it also engages with these elements in a more compelling and nuanced way than I find most of these stories do. I am glad that I continued to read Parrish after my first read of this, because many of her books tell really different stories about queer life and queer folks falling in love, and she has become one of my most favorite writers, one of my go-to’s for intense, riveting, angsty romance that also delivers on sweetness, care, and complexity. (And is some of the best foodie romance out there.)

So, when I re-approached this book for a comfort read, I knew what was in it, and skipped the detailed descriptions of trauma, though I did read the things that occurred in the timeline of the novel. What was left was a story centering a romance between two trauma survivors that grew up in chaotic families that neglected them, who have coped with and survived trauma using dramatically different strategies, and are grappling with falling for each other, learning how to trust each other.

As a trauma survivor myself, I find this kind of story deeply compelling when it’s drawn with nuance, and despite the rather detailed heavy-handed descriptions of trauma, this one was drawn with a lot of care and depth. I really liked watching Daniel get stuck in his trauma stuff, and in his own way, and grapple with the ways his armor made this so damn hard for him…and eventually learn to trust. And I adored Rex with all my heart, from the way he was so gentle and careful and cared so much about consent, to the way he really wanted to care for Daniel, to the way it took him so long to trust him. Both of these characters really resonated for me, as a trauma survivor reader. This story, more than most, makes me wish that this genre convention of recounting detailed trauma stories would go away, because I think this story would be so much better–was such a better read for me–without those details.

One of the things I love about this story is the food, the way Rex communicates and shows love through food, the way Daniel has such a complicated and fraught relationship with food, and how they navigate this together. This is such a satisfying foodie romance in so many ways! There is also a lot about home, and creating home and a sense of safety in this story, and I adore all the domestic moments, including the cooking, and the decorating the tree, hosting gatherings, seeing the way Daniel thinks about home shift as the story progresses.

There is also so much about touch in this story that I appreciated, not just in the sex scenes, which were full of heat and heart and this really lovely embodiment and communication, but also all these moments that were about touch and the complexities of receiving a massage or relaxing against someone, or dealing with a hug and when to let go. Those details were so visceral and in the moment and I loved that the story was abundant with them.

When I glanced at the reviews for this book, I could see that there isn’t much love for Daniel, so I want to take a moment to tell you how much he had my heart. I could trace so much of who he was back to trauma and the long term impact of childhood neglect, and it felt so real to me, resonated deeply, that he would struggle at the level that he was struggling to do the basics of his life and would also staunchly refuse help and struggle to trust anyone who offered it. I got him, and groaned affectionately every time he missed things, got stuck, and got in his own way. I loved seeing his friendship with Ginger from his perspective again, after reading Small Change several times since I first read this.

Parrish writes characters I care about, invest in, and this book does that just as much as her later books do. I’m glad I reread it, there were aspects of it that were deeply comforting and hit the spot for me.

Representation

  • Gay trauma survivor MC
  • Gay trauma survivor MC with dyslexia

Content Warnings (in white, highlight to read)

Car accident resulting in minor injuries and an injured dog (both the MC and the dog are okay). Detailed account of an intensely violent mugging.

MCs with PTSD who have trauma reactions including flashbacks, nightmares, hyperarousal, panic attacks. MC with a history of multiple instances of queer bashing, including queer panic situations, many references, fear of it happening again, detailed recounting of it. Misogyny, misgendering, queer hatred and physical violence from family, including slurs. Outing. Detailed account of getting queer bashed as a teen, intense violence, substantial injury, use of a stick as a weapon, former boyfriend was in a coma as a result and did not wake up. 

References to sex with an adult as a 16 year old. Many references to child physical abuse from older siblings. Multiple references to child neglect, child abandonment. Abusive relationship in the past., detailed account of class-based abusive behavior and emotional abuse. Reference to suicide of a queer sibling of one of the secondary characters in the past, and a possible suicide attempt in the past and potential current suicide risk of a queer sibling of one of the MCs in the present. 

Alcohol use, character gets drunk multiple times, often as a coping strategy for stress and trauma. Family history of alcoholism, problem drinking. ACOA related issues. Reference to drug use in the past. 

References to death of mother as a child, for both MCs. Death of father within the timeframe of the story, from a heart attack. Grief is an important element in the story.

Casual ableism. Internalized ableism in the dyslexic MC, and fear of ableist response when dyslexia is disclosed. Casual aromisia. 

MC has a complicated relationship with eating, often forgets to eat, often gets nauseous from stress/trauma and cannot eat, vomiting as traumatic reaction. 

Sex on the page. 

Disclosures

  • Source of the book: I bought this book myself.
  • I have had no contact with the author.

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