Title : Encore
Series : A Blue Notes Novel
Author : Shira Anthony
Publisher : Dreamspinner Press (BUY HERE)
Genre : M/M, Contemporary
Length : 296 pages (e-book)
Published : November 11, 2013
Rating : ★★★★★
Cool kid violinist Roger Nelson doesn’t give a damn about anything. Wannabe conductor John Fuchs is awkward, effeminate, and just figuring out he’s gay. Despite their differences, they become friends—then lovers—and after college, they try to make it work. But it’s the 1970s, and Roger can’t bring himself to admit he’s gay. Worse, after his brother is killed in Vietnam, Roger tries to live up to his memory and be the perfect son. Then after suffering one tragedy too many, he makes the biggest mistake of his life: Roger pushes John away.
Through the years, they dance around the truth and in and out of each other’s lives, never quite able to let go. Twenty years later, Roger still carries the pain of losing his dream of a brilliant career with him, while John is a superstar conductor with a wild reputation. John’s off-stage antics get him plenty of attention, good and bad, though deep down, he wants only Roger. Finally determined to hold on to what really matters, Roger asks John for another chance, and when John panics and runs, Roger has to convince him to listen to his heart.
After reading this story, I was on my feet shouting “Bravo!” Encore is a stunning portrayal of the human condition. It is the poignant and at times heartbreaking love story of Roger and John, told over an epic 35 year chronology. Two people who found each other early in life, but who needed to explore, discover, disclose and embrace themselves as individuals before they were truly able to be together.
Guy’s didn’t tell each other “I love you” did they?
Sigh. This line from John’s teenage thoughts goes a long way towards explaining why it takes him and Roger so many years to end up on the same page…..
A passion for music draws Roger Nelson and John Fuchs into a fast friendship at their Ohio high school. John is a shy, oft stuttering, highly talented music student who has transferred in from a private school. His parents are divorcing, and he doesn’t see himself as cool or fitting in very well. He is rather floored when the popular and easy going Roger takes him under his wing. John wants to be a symphony conductor, Roger is a violinist. The pair became inseparable, practicing music and hanging out together. I adore the scenes where Roger is playing violin with John accompanying him on piano – their connection with and via the music is so divine. There comes a day when the war in Vietnam hits home. Roger’s brother, Marc, is killed in action. Roger’s parents are devastated and he is stricken hard by the loss, but his friendship with John helps him through. One night while at a house party, John and Roger find themselves in a secluded room, with the help of plenty of booze and weed on board, they have sex. I have to say…I sort of expected at this point John would get a big load of denial, backtracking and alienation from Roger. You see, John, although certainly not open about this in the early 70s, had pretty much acknowledged to himself that he was gay. Roger on the other hand, was definitely attracted to girls, with no hint of it being a ruse of any sort, and would certainly never describe himself as gay. Instead, the guys were both happy about his new intimacy, and continued on seeing each other. In fact, they attended U of M in Ann Arbor as roomies, where they could continue their music studies together, as well as their relationship – sex included. If only John didn’t feel as though Roger at times considered him an embarrassment to have around…
Despite some of these niggling doubts of John’s which were fueled by Roger’s newfound friendship with one of he girls at school, the two made big plans to attend Julliard in NYC…Until another tragic occurrence causes a mind numbing end to Roger’s musical aspirations, and puts a huge distance between he and John. Roger attempts to determine where his relationship with John fits in this the new direction his life must take. Miranda, Roger’s bitch of a mother (oh, did I say that?) is only too happy to have “that boy” away from Roger (and Roger away from the violin his Grandfather had bought for him at age 9) so that she can have him under her thumb now. Yep, she is one of those controlling, manipulative, “not my son” type of mothers. Oh Miranda was difficult to stomach! Sure I know it was the 70s, but still, to me the decade doesn’t matter – a parent should be supportive and loving. Unfortunately, Miranda’s opinions are a constant weight on Roger’s back, and ultimately influence his decisions.
After completing studies to be an accountant, Roger does make it to NYC to be with John, where he is enjoying a budding musical career at Julliard. In NYC Roger witnesses men being openly gay in certain circles, he sees John has become more comfortable with it and in fact appears more at ease in his own skin, more effeminate even. Roger is happy for John, even jealous that he has gay friends. However, although Roger had been comfortable with John when they had been cocooned together in their college days, he is not ready to acknowledge his sexuality or indeed his relationship with John in any type of open manner. He is also finding it extremely painful to be on the sidelines when it comes to John’s success at Julliard, and having to talk to fellow musician friends of John’s. Roger is still freshly dealing with the pain of Julliard and a career as a musician having been his dream for many years too, one which will now never come to pass. John does his best to be supportive and doesn’t push Roger for more than he is comfortable with. I do wonder what would have happened if he had… Ultimately Roger is figuratively, and literally, unable to face the music and leaves John with a simple yet profound…
“I’m so sorry”
A lot of necessary page time is given in the early part of book to setting up the beginning of the relationship dynamic between Roger and John. Knowing where their heads were as teens in the early 70’s, how they were influenced and motivated by their families, world events, and society in general -as well as by their inner emotions and desires – is crucial to understanding the actions and decisions they make throughout their lives. We get into the heads of both Roger and John, although more than half of the focus of the story definitely falls on Roger. At one point John is remembering seeing the Stonewall riots on TV and his Dad, much to John’s amazement, says to him: “fucking fluters. They should have shot them all”. Six months later, John kissed a boy, and liked it. Hmm, not long after that is when John’s parents divorced and his Dad virtually disappeared from his life. John’s Mom remained ever supportive of him though, even when he came out to her in the late 70s. Roger’s mother, well yes I already stated how lovely she is, didn’t I?
So … did I mention this story covers 35 years? It is told in linear fashion (I know many readers aren’t crazy about flashbacks!). Sit back and prepare to be patient with these guys, prepare to be angry with them. Prepare to love, laugh, celebrate and cry with them as they journey through achingly genuine, true to life scenarios. Prepare to relive (or discover) the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, including some of the worst atrocities those decades had to offer. The fallout from the Vietnam war, the horrible devastation of AIDs, the humility of DADT. I personally cried, shouted and had to put down my e-reader for a bit as the depth of emotions became overwhelming. You will witness the evolution and maturity in these two men, yet see how their basic characteristics do not waver – they need these life experiences to grow and mature. Nothing about the character’s portrayals are forced or contrived.
I really appreciated that while the guys struggled with their true feelings, they never completely cut each other out of their lives. There was nobody saying “it’s not me, it’s you”, or “I’m not good enough for you.” Neither was cruel or belittling to the other. In fact, John on many occasions was amazingly supportive of Roger after he had walked away from him in NYC. Again and again I had to reconcile how understanding John was towards Roger, with the dates during which this story was taking place, and also with John’s intrinsic personality. On a deep level, they recognized their need for each other. No matter how much time passed, they could talk to or see one another and have it feel necessary and right. Those who have read the previous releases in the Blue Notes series will be pleased with the appearances of Alex Bishop, Cary Redding and David Somers as they irrevocably intertwine themselves into the lives of Roger and John.
“Funny how reality sneaks up on you”
It was fascinating to watch the two men maintain this solid friendship even as they moved through their separate lives. They were even supportive of each other when they found new love interests. It was so sad back in their early years together, when John was ready to embrace a life with Roger, to watch Roger realize he was simply not capable of making that leap. After many years and life experiences, when Roger does find himself aching to have it all with John, it is John who balks. He values his friendship with Roger, he lost him once. He has lost other loved ones and had spent several years now playing the field rather than get his heart involved again. Roger finally has this exchange with John:
“I’ve spent my entire life trying to be something I’m not. And when Marc died, I got this stupid idea in my head that I had to be a substitute for my parents. Someone to take his place. Being gay wasn’t part of that. And you” – He shook his head. “ – you were everything I’d wanted to be. Successful. Talented. Focused. Okay with who he was. I wanted to be with you, but every time I was, it was like I could see all the things I’d fucked up and lost.”
…God knows John had never stopped loving Roger, but dare John take the risk of having everything and more with him again? Indeed it is music that has come full circle to be the glue which helps bind their lives together again. Read the book and experience for yourself how these two beautiful guys compose and conduct their encore. ♥
I recommend this book most highly. My love of music made this story especially touching to me. Knowing that the author put a lot of personal experience into this story makes it even richer. As with all of the Blue Notes novels, the music in this story serves as a perfect conduit for conveying the emotions experienced by the characters as they navigate their lives. ♪ ♫
*Encore can most definitely be read as a standalone, as can all of the stories in the Blue Notes world. Do yourself a favor though, and read them all! I want to also give huge props to Catt Ford for the gorgeous cover art !
Rated 5 stars by Dianne