Just Between Us
J.H. Trumble's new novel "Just Between Us" tells the poignant story of two young gay men whose friendship and romance is complicated by tensions, betrayals, and life-changing secrets. While the novel makes for an interesting read, it is unfortunately weakened by its narrative structure, missed story beats, and hurried resolution. Even worse is the fact that it pushes a relationship that is ultimately difficult to support.
At the heart of the story is high school student Luke Chesser and college student Curtis Cameron who meet via Luke's school marching band. However, just as Curtis and Luke begin to explore their relationship, Curtis finds his world and life turned upside down by the discovery that he is HIV positive.
Trumble's protagonists are intricately developed with both strengths and weaknesses. Luke is deeply passionate yet incredibly impulsive, sometimes with damaging ramifications. Curtis is headstrong and quick to help others. Yet, reeling from and unwilling to accept his diagnosis, he quickly retreats from Luke.
Unfortunately, the novel is undermined by a number of unfortunate factors. First, while the reader is meant to root for Luke and Curtis as a couple, it is challenging to actually want this couple to be together. How are we to buy into this couple's love when Luke comes across as petulant and judgmental in terms of his actions and reactions regarding Curtis? Frankly, it's difficult to accept this couple's relationship when, from all appearances, Curtis would be far better off without Luke and his misguided attempts to "save" Curtis.
Another weakness is Trumble's use of dual points of view for her novel's narrative structure. Thus, some chapters are told from Curtis' perspective while others are told from Luke's point of view. It's an interesting device and does propel the story, but ultimately it doesn't work well because the characters' narrative voices are hardly distinctive but far too similar.
The final drawbacks involve the novel's conclusion. Trumble seems to rush the ending in an effort to tie up dangling plot threads. As a result, she misses some story opportunities. For instance, upon accepting his diagnosis, Curtis joins an HIV support group. From what I can recall, we see three scenes involving the support group, including one where Curtis lashes out at the group members. A mere six pages later, Curtis is with the group, telling them he's returning to college, and that the group members mean the world to him. Huh? Why the rapid turnaround? It would have been far more powerful had we actually seen Curtis grow closer to his fellow support group members. It's clearly meant to be a touching scene but as written it comes across as hollow and forced.
While "Just Between Us" is an enjoyable read, ultimately it is unsatisfying, which is a shame considering its subject matter and potential.