“Tell Me It’s Real” makes an appearance on my list of favorites because it made me laugh harder than any book ever. I would caution readers to avoid reading it in public or around anyone you wouldn’t want to share the contents with …curiosity can be an irresistible force, you know. Of course, though this is predominantly a romantic comedy, there are stirring moments as well. It has one of the best ever childhood scenes between friends…made me love the characters SO much.
Why is this book so funny? Mainly, because we share head space with main character, Paul Auster, an insecure guy who’s prone to keeping his head down. But inside his head, we hear a whole range of thoughts from timid and self-deprecating to unrestrained, outrageous, and preposterous. And unfortunately, when he speaks, the words that come out of his mouth are often the worst possible choices for the given situation. In fact, his thoughts and words sometimes venture into extreme humiliation territory, at which point author TJ has no compunction about throwing in a little twist that shoves it right in the path of social disaster.
Paul is about to turn 30 as our story begins. He works for an insurance company in the customer service department and lives alone with a small dog called Wheels, who I will let you meet in the book. Paul has quirky parents and a downright balmy grandmother who owns a parrot that spouts homophobic epithets. He is too shy to make many friends, let alone boyfriends, with the exception of a psycho once, who believes Paul’s house is haunted – and I’ll let you meet that ghost for yourself, as well.
Yes, this is a two-man romance, but Paul’s absolute best friend in all the whole wide world, Sandy Stewart, is a prominent character – or make that, two characters. Sandy is also Queen Helena Handbasket who has a popular act at the local gay club. Paul and Sandy have been inseparable since childhood and Paul alone is allowed to help Sandy make the transformation to Helena. Well, there is an aging leather daddy named Charlie who’s allowed in the area, too, but that’s another story. And let me tell you, Helena is a force to be reckoned with. Paul’s life wouldn’t be the same without her.
Finally, there’s the love interest, Vince Taylor. To hear tell, Vince is walking eye-candy and sex-on-legs, but isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed. I really take exception to this and don’t believe it, based on the story. Vince’s family and friends, and Vince himself, all say he isn’t that smart. OK. However, when I hear the things Vince says and see the things he does, he seems pretty normal to me. I mean, he does the same job as Paul and manages to live independently quite successfully. As a matter of fact, the words that come out of Paul’s mouth push the boundaries of intelligence. (Yes. Yes. I know. It’s comedy) But the character of Vince is SO lovable, I don’t want anyone to say he’s less than perfect!
So, there they all are – Paul, Sandy, Helena, Charlie and Vince – at the gay club. It’s Paul’s birthday. Paul is up in a balcony with Charlie waiting for Helena’s act to begin. Vince is below with friends when he spots Paul and (probably) falls in love at first sight. He has a drink delivered upstairs to Paul, who then experiences a minor existential crisis. Is it a joke? Because no one could possibly be interested in him. Right??!? Eventually, Paul throws back the shot, only to discover that it’s whiskey, which he can’t drink, and he spews it over the edge of the balcony, partially onto Vince, but mainly onto the slutty twink (Paul’s opinion) who delivered it. And so begins a beautiful friendship.
Paul has to work rigorously against his insecurities to believe that Vince’s interest can be real. That’s what the title is about. Having faith in oneself, in others, believing that good happens. Vince has confidence in himself, he’s a realist, but even he has his moments of anxiety. At one point, he’s talking with Paul’s mom and questions how a love so strong can grow so quickly.
“Vince laughed quietly. ‘How can any of this be real?’ he said with bemused wonder.
Mom was quiet for a moment before answering. ‘Because sometimes it’s about letting go of what your mind tells you and following what your heart shows you instead. That’s how you know it will always be real.'” (Chapter 12, page 95)
Though we readers spend much of the time laughing through this book, it is not an easy journey for our boys. In the end, they come through it with a bond forged strong by their trials of faith and valued all the more for their investment in it.
PS. The sequel “The Queen & the Homo Jock King” made its debut on February 29, 2016 and I’m in love with the cover. It’s in my TBR file, but I’m really looking forward to reading it. ❤
PPS. I have read this via the very excellent reading of Michael Lesley. I could not love it more. …but that’s a different story.
AND NOW 3 NOTES
NOTE 1 – My reservations about an aspect of this book
(A year later… Before I state my reservation, I want it noted that I do not, nor have I ever thought TJ dislikes women. When I wrote the following comment, it was strictly to raise awareness of what I saw as subtext. Long after I wrote this, TJ posted about problems he has had with readers believing he does not like women. I don’t even know how anyone could think that. He treats his female characters to the same unrestrained comic bombardment as his male characters. And if anyone is even casually acquainted with his social media presence they will know that women are an important part of his life, from his friendships to his family. So, what I have to say here is on a completely different plane from those erroneous perceptions. Though this may be where those perceptions came from.)
I really enjoy Klune’s writing, but something bothered me in this particular book. As part of the stream of consciousness coming from Paul’s thoughts and lips, he used the words ‘girls’, ‘vaginas’ and ‘labia’ a number of times to denote weakness, lack of ability or distastefulness. That in itself is not a problem and I thought the things he said were funny. Further, I don’t believe he intended any disrespect. It’s humor, right? That said, there is an underlying subtextual message that women are weak and somehow lesser. Women have fought for many years to overcome stereotyping and bias. I would love to see a rewrite of this book excluding the undermining language…and would duly buy a new copy.
NOTE 2 – I would have picked different models for the book cover.
The one who’s supposed to be Vince, I could picture as Paul – just add some padding. But Vince? That guy isn’t as described. How about this? I did a quick random google search for someone. I have no idea who this is, but he could be Vince. (A year later… PS. I learned how to do a photo search in Google and found out this is a natural fitness athlete and model named Kenan Engerini. He has a FB page.)
NOTE 3 – Consider purchasing one of these anthologies to benefit Eric Arvin. Eric passed away December 12, 2016. Purchase of these anthologies was a benefit to Eric in life, but now will benefit Eric’s final expenses.