I knew I was going to enjoy this book if it was anything like Sierra’s last book (one that also earned a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly), What It Takes. This is nothing like Sierra’s last book. Oh, it’s beautifully written with prose that often times feels like music on the page, the characters are real and layered, just as with her other book.
But where What It Takes is the journey of two young boys becoming men, Idlewild is several things at once:
- A story of two flawed and closed off men learning how to tear down their walls and let others in
- A love story
- A how-to guide to rebuild a restaurant (oh man, I could hear “Order up!” and the hustle and bustle–and the after hours drinks–from my college-era restaurant jobs as I read this)
- A love story to Detroit
- A cautionary tale about gentrification and how important respecting all aspects of a city–the good, the bad, the ugly, the amazing–is
- A masterclass in minimalistic romantic writing
I worry about saying that last one, because the last thing I’d want you to take away from this recommendation (and boy howdy, do I recommend that you run, don’t walk, to your local bookshop and pick it up OR get it from her publisher directly OR the usual suspects, your Amazons and what have you) is that this is going to short-change you.
It is incredibly difficult to tell a story that flies off the page if you weigh the reader down with incidentals. There is no fat to this book. It’s all meat. (Probably some delicious sliders from George in the kitchen, to be honest.) It moves at a fast clip and expects you to be able to keep up. (You totally can.)
Sometimes I struggle with POV switches in books. Sometimes writers retell a scene from the other POV and it feels… indulgent, like wasted time. I want to move forward. I want to keep the story going. Sierra does this, and does it well. There is always a point to the switch, which is as it should be. And it always, always moves the narrative forward, giving the reader a richer insight into the characters’ lives.
You’re not going to be bogged down with details about the cleaning crew, the delivery trucks, the main characters third-cousin twice removed. But you absolutely learn about their lives, their pasts, their families, and what they want for their future. And it all comes together here, in the restaurant Idlewild:
This cover, which is another glorious bit of work from Interlude Press’s art director, tells you right away that this is an intimate look at these two men–it’s not about the other characters. I feel like a voyeur in the best of ways. The book pulls you in immediately giving you a sense of intimacy, of longing, and of men who don’t know what they want other than for things to change.
Their journey is real and emotional. For me, a Woman of a Certain Age, it felt completely authentic. I know that there are readers who want an idealized world on the page. Sometimes I do, too. Then there are times when I want to fall into something that feels raw and honest. I want to know other people have hurt like I’ve hurt. I want to see how they deal with it, how they come through on the other side.
And then there is the prose. The gorgeous, lyrical prose that is quickly becoming Sierra’s hallmark. Sometimes there are gems that just smack you with how accurate it is, gems like:
“March in Michigan is always a series of hopes and heartbreaks.”
Ain’t that the damn truth?
The explanation of why Asher chose to open a restaurant in Detroit stems from his mother calling the city “hopeless” at a time when Asher was coming to grips with his sexuality. Was he hopeless, too? And how about that nifty little showing (no telling!) that Asher is a roll-your-sleeves-up kind of you-can’t-tell-me-what-to do person? Marvelous.
No point is beleaguered, nothing is trumpeted as Very Important. It all just happens to be important. This is a book that handles the issues of classism and racism (Asher, white, comes from privilege; Tyler, black, doesn’t. Their Detroits are vastly different entities, and yet they are both Detroit.).
This is also a massive love letter to both Detroits, which is really the one Detroit. This is a quiet introspection into a young widower’s grief and how he allows himself to love again. This is a powerful look at a young gay black man who believes his family’s future rests on his shoulders, but doesn’t know how to please them.
But most of all, this is a deeply romantic story of two men who can see the other’s potential. Who love their city fiercely. Who want to love someone passionately and learn how to do so without reservation. (Ha. See what I… Sorry.)
This is a beautiful, masterfully written bit of literary romance. I do hope you’ll take the time to get to know these two men and the better world they’re trying to make in their little bit of Detroit. It’s worth it.