By James Gregor
Simon & Schuster
This one or that one?
Pick A or B, your choice. Have one or the other, either-or, you have to decide because you can’t have everything. And don’t reach for it quick or, as in the new novel “Going Dutch” by James Gregor, someone’s going to get hurt.
Richard Turner hated online dating. Tinder, Grindr, OKCupid, they were all filled with the same kinds of interests and in-search-of’s from the same hot guys.
As for Richard, he wanted love. He wanted happily ever after with a man of his dreams. He also wanted to finish his grad-school paper, but not too quickly: his entire life was made possible by fellowship money that kept him financially afloat. Without it, he’d actually have to get a job so, in the meantime, he had single dates with single men and met with his academic advisor to discuss the work he wasn’t doing.
At least there was movement on that first part: he’d met Blake, who was incredible, but who didn’t seem so into Richard. On to the next swipe.
And on that second part, well, Richard’s advisor advised him to talk to Anne, a classmate who was also a rising star in academia. Richard knew Anne, but only in passing and she seemed nice enough, if not a little weird. As it turned out, she really knew how to write, though — so much so, that she basically wrote Richard’s paper for him. She was smart, well-traveled and she also knew how to make Richard feel wanted. It didn’t take long for them to have sex.
That was weird, too, because Richard was gay. But he liked Anne, he liked spending time with her and he appreciated her generosity. She seemed to genuinely care about him. He started thinking about moving in with her.
And then he met Blake again at a party.
Blake. Single, hot, and wanting Richard now.
“Going Dutch” is a tight novel — tight, as if it’s been sucking lemons all day.
It’s hard to imagine any two more unlikeable characters than Richard and Anne, as they have endless, banal conversations about their respective classwork and other mundane things. One could argue that this inanity is perhaps the point of the story, but it goes on way too long. When you’re in the midst of it, in fact, you’ll understand completely why author James Gregor’s two characters can’t find true love.
Enter Blake, who is a great distraction but who’s not very fleshed-out on the page. Even so, he’s a nice burr under the story’s saddle, adding a bit of desperately needed interest to what ends up something like wet firecrackers: a little spark and a sputter, doused by overly wordy narrative. And so this tale progresses to a squirmy-uncomfortable big culmination scene that, alas, even Blake’s presence can’t fix.
This book, filled with small talk and small actions, may appeal to habitual people-watchers but just remember that “Going Dutch” is sleepy. If you want a novel with any serious action in it, in other words, skip this one.