The Companion, Lloyd A Meeker
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Gay Romance
Tags: Daka (Sexual Practitioner), Cop, Abuse, Murder/Mystery, **Trigger Warning – Flashbacks to Child Sexual Abuse
Length: 220 Pages
Reviewer: Kazza K
Purchase At: Dreamspinner Press, amazon.com
Shepherd Bucknam is a Daka – someone who helps unlock sexual blocks/ difficulties in another. I just want to add that a Daka usually gives instruction and demonstrations, they are like a more spiritual sex therapist. Although what a Daka does is not always hands on, it can be, and in Shepherd’s case it is. His protégé, Stef, who he had high hopes for as a Daka, is killed at Shepherd’s studio. During the investigation he meets Marco Fidanza, the primary detective investigating the case. Marco calls Shepherd a prostitute and in some ways this is true, he is an upmarket sexual Daka – he is beautiful, he has sex with men as a service provider, he believes he helps to unfurl men’s stories from within their body. That by knowing men as he does, he can perform his service more easily and better. Shepherd may see it as a beautiful thing and as a sexual aid, and he certainly does, he very much believes –
I’d become an explorer, mapping the erotic rivers and jungles of men, and an acolyte, celebrating the divine power men’s bodies contained.
– but Marco doesn’t see it that way. However, soon enough, Marco is attracted to Shepherd. Shepherd is hot. He is beautiful. He also believes that Shepherd cared deeply for Stef. That Shepherd cannot handle violence is apparent – when he sees the results of Stef’s murder it makes him physically ill. A relationship quickly develops between the two men and the chemistry is palpable. All is going well, Shepherd isn’t working as he recovers from the loss of Stef, Marco has Shepherd meet his extended Italian family and Shepherd hires Juergen, his PI, to investigate what happened to Stef as the police come up against roadblocks – the primary suspect in Stef’s murder is a politician.
On top of this, a woman sees Shepherd at a farmer’s market and tells him she can help him understand about death that seems to stalk him… his fears. Marco doesn’t believe in mumbo jumbo New Age crap, but Shepherd is different. Shepherd is very New Age. When he goes to see the woman, Lorena, she channels “Guidance” and tells him things she could not possibly know – his reoccurring nightmare, his friend has died – including his real name and his nickname – and that they have continually met in past lives and will again. That his mother is dead but a ‘gift’ will arrive from her soon.
The ‘gift’ does arrive in the form a letter from his mother that she prearranged for her lawyer to send to Shepherd on the fifth anniversary of her death. In it she reveals her love for him, her love of drinking. Oh, and that she knew Uncle George was fucking her son from when Shepherd was young – so she killed him and successfully made it look like a suicide.
All of this makes for a good story. I had a couple of niggles – the sex could have been more passionate – sadly, it promised more than it actually delivered – the ease of use of the word “fat” about Lorena, the medium, bothered me. And then it hit the 66% mark and everything that I enjoyed about this book fell apart. After the letter from Shepherd’s mother, Marco needs to know about Shepherd’s uncle –
66% – Tell me about Uncle George,” he said after a while.
“We had sex. A lot. Ancient history.” I stroked his hand, grateful to be reeled back from gazing into my unexamined and insufficient worldview. “Long ago and far away.”
“It’s just come back to visit, babe. It’s right here in the room with us. Tell me.” His voice was firm and gentle, and I let go into it.
“I’ve helped at least two therapists retire in comfort by talking about this. I’m over it now. Really.” I reached up to stoke his face. “I’ll be merciful and give you the condensed version.”
I opened my memory box for Uncle George. “When I was about nine, my mother told me that if I learned to provide a service people needed, I’d never be out of a job. It was one of the few pieces of useful advice she managed to give me, and the moment she said it I knew it was true.
The author then mentions the first irony of her advice is that the MC’s parents were rich and he didn’t actually need to do much of anything. Now he’s rich as the beneficiary of all their wealth.
“The second irony in this vignette is that by the time she gave me this piece of wisdom, Uncle George had already taught me the lesson about providing a valuable service – in a way that made complete sense to me, even as a little boy. (No, it would not make sense to a little boy, Lloyd A. Meeker, as a therapist, as a mother, I can state that it would scar, scare and traumatise him. )
“One day when I was taking a bath, he came in and sat on the edge of the tub. He asked if he could wash my back, and I said yes. He got me to stand up, then soaped up and fondled my little boy parts until his hands were shaking so bad that he couldn’t hold on to my stiff little penis. Then he bolted from the bathroom.
“The second time Uncle George wanted to play with me I understood him perfectly. I knew I could give him what he wanted…not only what, but how. I can’t explain it very clearly, but it was a kind of complete understanding. A revelation. (This is projecting adult sexuality, concepts and cognitions onto a nine year old. This is very murky water we are now in.)
“Somehow, he became transparent to me. Intuitively, I knew what would make him happy I could feel his need like a solid thing inside him. I could feel his terrible shame, and what he was afraid of, but I knew what he wanted without him saying a thing. I felt nothing but compassion for him, although I didn’t even know that word then. (This is excusing an inexcusable betrayal and behaviour by an authority figure in a child’s life.)
“I knew I could lead him into what he longed for, and I was proud – happy – to do it. I gave him what he needed. I felt peaceful and strong and happy when I did. (I am offended and appalled by this. A child does not feel these things – they are guilted into acquiescing, usually by threats of the abuser, by intimidation, and by other adults around them not supporting or believing the child when they report the abuse.) I could use my body to provide a valuable service. Somehow, I also knew I was destined to become skilled in that service, and I was actually grateful to him for showing it to me. (A child would not feel this way. A child would be deeply upset, confused and feeling hurt. A child would not see that as their career path. Furthermore, an adult would not look back and think ‘I’m grateful that he abused me.’)
“We played often, Uncle George and I, until I went to school in Switzerland. He was my first client.”
I kissed Marco’s hand that held me against his chest. “So that’s the story of Uncle George. By the time I got back from Europe, he was long dead. Suicide, my mother said. He’d taken pills. I suspected it might be linked to his taste for little boys, but at worst, I figured maybe someone was blackmailing him. I certainly wouldn’t have. As I said, I was grateful to him, even though I also understood that what he’d done to me was wrong. (A teenage boy (by now) feeing grateful for being sexually abused by his uncle? Absolutely not! He may feel he would like to hide from it. Hope it is all behind him. Bury it deep in the subconscious. Grateful that the abuser is dead but conversely hurt because it is still his uncle.) Wrong for him to do, not so much wrong for me. I would have never guessed Mother made him swallow those pills. Not in a million years.” (Oh, you can’t just casually add it was ‘wrong’ for him to do as an obligatory sentence when the tone of the text is not saying that at all. We’ve just be bombarded subtly with he is ‘grateful’ he learned his trade from good old Uncle George.)
Until the 66% mark this was a solid 4 star read for me. Now? I feel…uncomfortable – trust me, that is the polite version of my feelings – and if I could minus star this book I would. I understand this is fiction. I read very dark books, I read erotica, I have genuine flexibility in what I read and tolerate, but the above did not sit well with me at all. I have read and reread this section of the book at least six times over a period of hours trying to see if I misread it. But each time my reaction has been the same. I am stunned by the seemingly cavalier treatment of a serious issue, one that needs more sensitivity in the writing.
**I picked The Companion up again to read past this section to see if any light was shed on the above. I feel I needed to understand where this came from. It did nothing to ease my reaction and thoughts.**
Last but not least, there is no warning on this book by the publisher of a very likely sexual trigger, and sexual abuse flashbacks or discussions are very strong sexual triggers – particularly the way it is handled in this book. In the wind-up, 1 Star!
This ARC was provided to me by the publisher for an honest review.