Title: When Souls Collide
Author: NJ Nielsen
Publisher: MLR Press
Length: 78 pages, 25k+ words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Western
Heat: 2 – Romantic & Tame
Sex Frequency: 2 – Few and Far Between
Keywords/Tags: Kids, Cowboys, Texas, Small Towns, HEA
Rating: Not Feelin’ It
Question: What is the stupidest thing an openly gay man could do?
Answer: Move to Texas and marry a woman.
Tossed off the Golden Spur with nothing but the clothes he was wearing and his newborn son. Riley Stuart contemplates his life. He gave up everything he knew to come halfway around the world to find things don’t always work out like you planned. On her deathbed his wife outs him to her family — her very bigoted family.
Noah Johnson finds a naked man and infant in his barn. What are they doing there, and where did they come from? In the course of helping Riley get back on his feet somewhere along the way he felt their souls collide.
I was excited to read this story after having reviewed and enjoyed this author’s recent novel release, Rules Are Meant to be Broken (reviewed here). Instead, I didn’t connect with this story, which was a bit of a disappointment for me.
The story starts with Riley being kicked out of a car with his infant son Kai into the pouring rain. Riley doesn’t know where he is, other than in the middle of nowhere, the baby is crying and hungry and wet and cold. All Riley can think about, besides how to take care of Kai, are the hateful words his brother in law, and once a friend, directed at him as he abandoned them. He’s alone now with a baby to care for a no money — and he’s getting sick. The only family he had in the US was his wife’s family, but when she died and inadvertently outed him in the doing, the family wrote him off, taking his and the baby’s possessions.
The night’s respite comes in the form of a ranch. Riley stops in the barn and crawls into the hayloft to get his son out of the rain, hoping to be back on his way before light. He’s too sick, though, and might not make it too much further. Noah finds the young guy and baby sleeping in his barn and takes them in. Soon their attraction for each other, as well as the small-town gossip of Riley’s ex-in-laws puts them at odds with the town.
Several things got in the way of my enjoyment of this story, and though some were nitpicky details (saying Chase, an easily influenced character, was “mildly retarded”) that probably only bothered me and not other readers, I did feel like there were some choices made in the writing that negatively affected the story as a whole. First, for the length of the story, just barely more than a short story at 25k words, there were negative external influences from several directions instead of a focused antagonist. The two MCs had to deal with hatred from the town as a whole, from a ranch hand, from the Goldings family (the family that threw Riley and the baby out when they learned he was gay), as well as a specific person in town. It was a lot of problems from different directions. Not only does that leave almost no time for the exploration of the central relationship between Noah and Riley, but there really isn’t much time to explore the dynamics of the town where all this hatred is coming from. Because of that, I really missed the connection between the two men and even though time passes as Riley stays with Noah and they apparently get to know one another, it still felt like Insta-Love.
I did have quite a bit of trouble with some of the writing in this book — mostly the dialogue. It sometimes felt a bit unnatural. I realized when I was reading that it seemed as if these characters were playing roles themselves — those of a small town western. They seemed more like archetypes of Texans, even Noah at times. Gun-toting vigilanteism…that type of thing. I can deal with that I suppose, since that really is supposed to be what this town is like. It was stranger to me when it ended up coming through their dialogue:
(Officer Brady)“Look, if that was my fella in there I would keep him close to home for a while, just until we can work out just who the hell this is and which one of you he or she [is] trying to hurt,” Grady said quietly.
(Noah)“I will, but be warned! I will do anything to keep my family safe, and my guns are fully loaded.”
It just seems a bit too melodramatic and took a little too much suspension of disbelief for me to accept the way things fall into line from seemingly nowhere. I find it strange, because this story seems out of keeping with what I know of this author’s writing. And while I haven’t read a wide range of her work, I thought the writing in her novel was excellent. Maybe this was written a while ago and her writing has improved? Maybe… writing about Texans was more difficult for her than the characters and setting of the novel, which was in Australia. Then again, maybe it is just me and for some reason I really didn’t click with this one. Whatever it is, I’ll definitely keep reading this author’s work, even though I can’t recommend this novella.