AF Henley – Forty-Two Stairs

forty twoAuthor: AF Henley
Reviewer: Lucy
Publisher: Less Than Three Press
Genre: MM Contemporary
ISBN: 9781620043714

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Summary: Owen has been struggling with addiction since he was a teenager, but it takes a DUI involving another vehicle for him to finally face his issues. The road to recovery is a rough one, and for Owen it’s a journey made harder by bankruptcy, loneliness, and repressed memories.

His new apartment doesn’t help either. It’s small, worn, and hot as hell. The only way to reach it is a tedious stretch of stairs that seems like the final insult on top of a whole pile of misery. Thankfully, the mess comes with one bright spot: intense, pretty Sebastian, who seems to have a knack for keeping his head up and finding the beauty in everything.

Review: Owen had a great life – a big house, money, a loving boyfriend, awesome big brother. He also carried a big addiction to alcohol, one that finally ruined things for him with a car accident that happened because he was drunk. After this second DUI, Owen’s life drastically changes, going from success to broke and struggling in an instant. No one to blame but himself, but still. He has to do a rehab program that he absolutely hates, one that makes him feel “hopeless and fucked up…the dredge of society”. To add a little bit of insult, the apartment he chose strictly based on the fact that it was cheap is, you guessed it, forty-two stairs up in the air.

It is here, while moving into this dismal apartment, that he meets Sebastian, “friends call me Baba”, with an elfin face, slender body and long purple hair (love that!) Sebastian works at the building and he’s open, friendly and a little odd. Owen can’t be attracted to him – part of the program is that you can’t be with anyone for the first year because you are too busy working on yourself.

Despite this, Owen and Baba become friends, which leads to some trouble with Craig, Owen’s rehab program sponsor. It was actually a really sad thing, the first time Baba and Owen are together, because regardless of what he’s trying to be, Owen acts like Sebastian is something shameful and that isn’t right.

For his part, Sebastian also has some issues of his own. Combined with both his brother’s and Craig’s assertions that this is not the time to get involved, Owen may have considered backing off. But as Baba says, you can’t help when you fall in love. The relationship building is slow because it is fraught with obstacles from both sides. There are happy moments (meeting on the rooftop), sad ones (Baba’s reaction to Craig berating Owen because of Baba) and ultimately hopeful ones (particularly Owen’s acceptance of the problems in himself and Baba).

I particularly liked that Eli, Owen’s ex, was not painted out to be a terrible man. He is a good man, one who loved Owen but couldn’t handle the alcoholic Owen. When he was needed, he stepped up and that is more than you can expect sometimes. “But you don’t stop loving someone because you hate what they’ve done.” So very true.

Owen’s past plays a huge role in what makes him as he is, as does the responses and reactions (or nonreactions, as it were) of his mother. Owen finally gets to realize how strong he is, and that conversation with his mother was a good one. There is big time awful past in that family and they all need to work to get past it.  Even the situation with Craig, while I felt it was a little dramatic, was something that just added to the burden but that could happen.  Craig himself, quite a bit of problems.

Owen and Sebastian are great characters, not perfect in any way and flawed quite a bit. They “get” each other. Maybe they didn’t meet at the ideal time but then, when is the ideal? “You are not a disaster. A beautiful tangle maybe.” Indeed.

I loved the ending, hopeful and positive: “They’re only stairs. You’ll get used to them.”

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