In The Absence of Light, Adrienne Wilder
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Gay Romance
Tags: ASD MC, Contemporary, FBI, Criminal Past, Love Story, Quirky Small Town, Family is Who You Make It
Length: 415 pages
Reviewer: Kazza K
Purchase At: amazon.com
For years Grant Kessler has smuggled goods from one end of the world to the next. When business turns in a direction Grant isn’t willing to follow he decides to retire and by all appearances he settles down in a nowhere town called Durstrand. But his real plan is to wait a few years and let the FBI lose interest, then move on to the distant coastal life he’s always dreamed of. Severely autistic, Morgan cannot look people in the eye, tell left from right, and has uncontrolled tics. Yet he’s beaten every obstacle life has thrown his way. And when Grant Kessler moves into town Morgan isn’t a bit shy in letting the man know how much he wants him. While the attraction is mutual, Grant pushes Morgan away. Like the rest of the world he can’t see past Morgan’s odd behaviors Then Morgan shows Grant how light lets you see but it also leaves you blind. And once Grant opens his eyes, he loses his heart to the beautiful enigma of a man who changes the course of his life.
Thirty six year old Grant Kessler lands in the small town of Durstrand to lay low after being in a questionable business of importing/exporting goods. He was also romantically involved with a man he thought he loved, Jeff. Jeff, however, turned out to be FBI and in on a sting to bring Grant and fellow import/export ‘businessmen’ down. They particularly wanted Grant’s “black book” of contacts, which Grant had no intentions of coughing up. Business began to become complex and there was no longer honour amongst thieves. Stolen coin collections, cars, and various other goods were overtaken by people-smuggling/trafficking, drugs, and nasty thugs behind it all who’d shoot you as soon as look at you for a buck. Hating the way business is going, Grant gets out, moves to Durstrand, buys the old Anderson house, starts renovating it and dreams of far off beaches where he’ll retire when the heat is off. He has a three year plan. The Seychelles looks nice and he’ll be out of US jurisdiction. But, and there’s always a but, beneath the best laid plans of mice and men theory, Durstrand, its people, and a special person by the name of Morgan slowly start to get under Grant’s skin. Over a period of time, as Durstrand weaves its magic, as he really sees Morgan, the Seychelles dream seems to shimmer off in the distance.
Morgan Kade is twenty four, he is gorgeous to look at, funny, intelligent, direct, stubborn, creates beautiful kinetic glass sculptures … and he’s autistic. He’s a busboy at Toolies, a local bar that serves the best beer around and is a stop over for people passing through from two major business hubs. Morgan has a fixation on light, bottles and their colours, and he cops no crap about his disorder and being gay. This doesn’t mean that people don’t get to him, they do. Morgan has been hurt in his life, deeply, and yet, despite his cheeky ways, despite his seeming confidence and his intellect, he has doubts. But never does he let anything stop him from achieving what he wants and his clever pranks that he pulls from time to time – including his toothpick special and his finger barometer – are funny and never fail to suck people in. And they always have a point. Morgan also has a way of breaking down the complex into the simple. Life shouldn’t be as complex as it is.
Grant puts up roadblocks to Morgan in the beginning. Like a lot of other people he has a preconceived idea of ‘normal,’ and Morgan doesn’t fit that mould. He finds it hard to believe Morgan can care for himself, let alone want sex and know his sexuality. Other people have a way of sowing a different seed for Grant to develop and Morgan’s personal beauty makes the seed take. Morgan likes Grant and he proves that preconceptions are often very, very wrong and misguided personal limiters.
That these two meet is wonderful and it’s a pairing that works. Morgan, the gorgeous power-bottom. And, man, is he ever. And Grant, the older man he sets his sites on and helps change – with no intentions of changing him – to be a better person. Grant always has had principals, but after meeting Morgan he has a complete paradigm shift on people and on love.
There are other story arcs running concurrently with the burgeoning love story of Morgan and Grant. Jeff is still with the FBI and in and out of Durstrand to get the black book on Grant’s clients and dealings. But Grant’s nothing if not tight-lipped and made sure he’s always had legitimate paperwork. Jeff also wonders why Grant hasn’t tapped into his substantial bank accounts – which no one actually knows exist, including Jeff – and taken off. But Grant has his exit plan in place and at the moment that’s being in Durstrand biding his time.
“Run?” I smiled and tilted my head. “Running insinuates I’ve done something illegal. Which I haven’t.”
“You seriously believe your own bullshit, don’t you?”
“It’s not bullshit. Everything I ever did is on paper. Even the IRS doesn’t have a beef with me. Hell, Jeff, I fucked you every night in my bed for over three years and you couldn’t find dirt under my fingernails.”
Jeff can’t understand how Grant could be interested in (someone like) Morgan. He uses everything to try to get Grant to spill, and he’s still in love with him. It sounds like Jeff is an arsehole but he grows on you and like a lot of people, not all is as it seems on the surface. So things are coming to a head in regards to Grant’s previous life and business in Chicago. Morgan also has a very nasty ex in the background who is up for parole for an act of unspeakable violence against Morgan.
Then there is the quirky, offbeat and fabulous town of Durstrand and it’s inhabitants. Much like Sophie Oak’s terrific series Bliss, Colorado, Durstrand is the kind of town you would love to move to, and I don’t even like small towns. How can you not love a town that has a drive-in movie theatre built for Mr. Newman’s cows? People who love the steamy flexible sex that Morgan and Grant get up to there and ask for Grant’s autograph in appreciation? Who remind the local priest that he has his own skeletons when he isn’t too happy about gay couples? And even though Lori, who raised Morgan, is dead, I loved her with every fibre of my being. You can’t help but feel otherwise.
Okay. A personal plus about this book is that autism and the umbrella of behaviours, the spectrum, were well written and utilised. Including realistic use of motor and facial tics, as well as auditory and sensory responses to stimuli and stressors. Having raised an ASD son I was blown away by similarities. People on the ASD are (often brutally) honest – when Morgan isn’t honest, because of social expectations of behaviour, his tics become more pronounced, only Grant doesn’t know what he’s seeing and (isn’t) hearing at first. When Morgan is rebuffed because Grant isn’t sure about Morgan being anything but disabled in the beginning, and Grant fobs him off, he shows it –
“About that.” I finished off the last bite of chicken salad. “You sure there’s not someone else who can give you a ride?”
Morgan kept his gaze down and somewhere at the edge of the table. He wiggled his fingers close to his ear. His knuckles whitened when he made a fist. Then with his other hand, he forced the wayward one to his lap.
That Adrienne Wilder gave Morgan a strong voice and no need to be rescued was a bonus for me. He is a capable twenty four year old with a disorder, and shown as such. We all have a cross to bear, it all depends on how we bear it that’s important. And Morgan bears it with dignity, wit, and love.
Grant was a revelation whose development took some time, but was believable and worth watching. Via his (evolving) narrative he also allows readers a look at the way people, the wider community can be judgemental without ever making anything – this book – seem preachy.
In The Absence of Light showcases the empathy of an author who has much to say about the perception of “normal.” Someone who has an idea of human nature, both at its worst and at its best. There is much passion here and much love. Interesting and genuine characters fill the pages with their quirks, their flaws, insecurities, personal growth and individual depth. But most of all, there is a beautiful love story between characters I simply adored. The humour is sometimes dry, other times acutely observational, and beautifully delivered. The chemistry between Grant and Morgan is scorching, with some inventive and incendiary sex, and an aching tenderness which flows through them into the reader. To the author I say – ‘please, please give me another book after this one.’ I would love more Morgan and Grant, I don’t say that a lot, and I definitely want to see Jeff find his happiness. 5 Toothpick Stars!