A review by gretchening
Fail Seven Times, by Kris Ripper

5.0

I was given an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Content notes: contains BDSM, homophobia, deep reflections on men lost to HIV/AIDS, combining alcohol and sex and (to a lesser degree) alcohol and BDSM.

This is a very thoughtful, sweet, gentle poly romance that gets in deep with the (frequently aggravatingly prickly) protagonist, Justin. Justin is gay, kind of a jerk, and in love with his best friend Alex--and Alex's girlfriend Jamie. The worst part? They're in love with him, too. Cue a great deal of angst on the part of Justin trying to come to grips with being able to have nice things but not really feeling like he understands them or deserves them. I can relate, buddy.

This book has lots of relatable feelings, some very sweet home repair, reflections on recovering queer history, snarky banter, awkward sex scenes (my JAM), non-sexual BDSM, and dealing with who you are and who you want to be, and who will best fit with you in all of your spiky obnoxious pigheadedness.

The romance in this book was good especially if long, difficult relationship talks and people who are bad at and afraid of feelings are your thing. For me, though, the two aspects of this book that were incredibly moving were: the BDSM scene between Justin and his mostly-lesbian friend Madison, and Justin's deep connection to (fictional) gay artist Enrico Hazeltine, whose work captures the imagination of Justin's very conservative artist boss, and who died of HIV/AIDS in the 80s.

The BDSM scene I'm referring to is just such a sweet, caring, funny interaction between two people who are just... lonely and craving connection with someone who gets them. Madison's giggles at Justin's junk were particularly dear to my heart, and the sense of community that scene brought up was so so wonderful. BDSM can be such a powerful connecting force, and from zir other work I knew Ripper understands this deeply, but seeing it in a totally platonic setting like this was just so hugely appreciated.

The Hazeltine story is peppered throughout the book, and allows the story to reflect deeply on Justin's connection to gay history, and gives a very sweet wrap-up at the end for the power of art to change people (at least a little bit). Justin's read into Hazeltine's diaries, and his research into Hazeltine's death and the photographs he asked his closest community to take of his body, really resonated powerfully for me. I cried so much reflecting on the loss of most of a generation of men, of the art and perspective we lost during the 80s. Seeing Justin remember his youth as a young gay man knowing some of the story of Hazeltine, then see him come back to a deeper reflection on him as an adult, was such a special aspect of this book for me that it almost overshadowed the romance (which is what I was here for to begin with).

In all, I ended up feeling a bit over Justin (he was my least favorite character in Practice Makes Perfect, and I did groan a little to learn we were getting a book about him). His attitude and personality were off-putting for me at first and sometimes made it hard for me to stick with him. However, I got a deeper understanding of him, and to be honest his faults and mistakes make him a more interesting protagonist. I liked this book a lot.