A school in turmoil over its senior play, a sly career as a teenage gigolo, an unpredictable girlfriend with damage of her own, and a dangerous housebreaker tied up downstairs. Any of these would make a great plot for budding filmmaker Eric's first movie.
Unfortunately, they're his real life.
When Julien, a handsome wannabe actor, transfers to Eric's class, he's a distraction, a rival, and one complication too many. Yet Eric can't stop thinking about him. Helped by Eric's girlfriend, Mary, they embark on a project that dangerously crosses the line between filmmaking and reality. As the boys become close, Eric soon wants to cross other lines entirely. Does Julien feel the same way, or is Eric being used on the gleefully twisted path to fame?
- 3 To Be Read lists
- 1 Read list
Publisher: Bold Strokes Books
Pairings: M-M, M-M-F
Heat Level: 4
Romantic Content: 1
Character Identities: Bisexual, Questioning, Polyamorous
Tropes: Coming of Age, Criminals & Outlaws, Everyone is Queer, First Time, Lone Wolf, Love Triangle, Mind Games
Word Count: 82600
Setting: Sydney, Australia
Languages Available: English
No price was too high for a good decorator who knew the value of soundproofing. This trivial certainty helped settle Eric’s nerves as he cautiously descended the stairs to the theatre room’s locked door. He could still hear his captive, the housebreaker he’d dubbed ‘Joe,’ crying out, and Eric wondered if the screams would cover the sound of the turning lock. He didn’t want Joe to know he was in the room right away, or to yell at him directly. It would ruin everything.
At six days, one hour, and thirty-nine minutes, Eric knew he was no longer continuing this experiment out of interest or fascination but out of necessity. He didn’t much like Joe’s chances of leaving the house as something other than a prisoner or a corpse. If the man were to leave as a prisoner, there would be questions, from the police, from people at school, perhaps even from his mother.
On second thought, she probably wouldn’t want to know.
If she came home at all, she would oblige the police with a good cry, during which she would insist she didn’t know who her son was anymore—an ironic truth, all things considered—and board the next flight back to Los Angeles, where she had spent the last two months ‘working,’ as she called it, leaving Eric the house to himself.
For two whole months, Eric had felt almost self-actualised. At least, insofar as a seventeen-year-old within the confines of nominally Christian, North Shore private schooling could.
If Joe left the house as a prisoner, Eric’s self-actualisation would come to an abrupt end. He’d be arrested, along with his captive. Fuck that. On the other hand, if Joe were forced to leave the house as a corpse, that would bring its own problems. Eric refused to entertain the idea – for now.
He turned on the MP3 recorder, his finger drifting over the controls almost subconsciously as he started murmuring the lyrics to an old Muppet song about being halfway down the stairs. He made only a half-hearted effort to stay close to the original tune, which was underpinned by his captive’s whimpering. But Joe’s voice soon roared one more barrage, and Eric refocused, erasing the recording.
Johansson, his music teacher, had told the class to be innovative in choosing sound sources for the digital editing assignment, and Eric would be damned before he passed up the chance to use a source as unique as the pleas of his bellowing captive. He had to get this right. Not to please Johansson, but to satisfy his own curiosity.
When the next scream came, Eric swiftly turned the lock, opened the door and dived through, closing it behind him as Joe went silent. He stood deathly still for a moment, his back against the wall, trying to steady his breathing as he listened for Joe in the perfect darkness of the room.
“Who’s…who’s there? Dude, is that you?”
Eric resisted the snarl that formed on his lips as he flicked on the recorder.
“Look, this isn’t funny man, alright? They’re gonna find me. You know that! They’re gonna come looking for me! Just untie me, okay? I won’t say anything. Please?”
Six days, and Joe hadn’t stopped. Eric admired his tenacity, but surely it was clear by now the man wasn’t going anywhere?
“Hello? Hello, dude? Are you there? Oh fuck, somebody help me!” The bellowing started up again. “Can somebody hear me?”
Eric smiled, even as the echo of Joe’s voice, having now resumed its full volume, shook against the inside of his skull. This was better. He lowered the recorder’s sensitivity as the levels spiked. For his many faults, Joe had an impressive set of lungs, which managed to keep screaming for a good four minutes of MP3 before Eric realised the time and shut down the recorder.
“Thanks,” he offered, though he wasn’t sure why. “I’ll be back later.”
“Hey! Hey, you’re in here? You get back here and let me go, you—”
Eric closed the door behind him and relocked it, wincing as his captive called him the c-word. He replayed a segment of the MP3. It was perfect, crisply delivering every nuance of the man’s cries. Eric went back upstairs and laid down on his bed, playing the track back one more time. He couldn’t hear the real thing now, just the glorious swirls of panic from the MP3. He rolled over, deeply inhaling the scent of his pillow, the mixed aroma of slickly groomed hair, crisp linen, and chocolatey cologne. It was in this position, one leg crossed over the other, with Joe’s screams filling the air, that Eric felt the newly formed erection inside his trousers. But jerking off now would have been terribly unprofessional. It was almost six. He had a client in less than an hour. Besides, he didn’t know why the sound of Joe’s screaming should make him hard. He swallowed down the vomit that threatened to repeat on him.
He stripped off his shirt, neatly folding it in half before putting it in the laundry basket. His socks and ugly grey school trousers followed in similar fashion until he finally stripped off his jock and turned on the shower of his ensuite bathroom, the smallest of three in the house. He paused a moment to inspect himself in the mirror. His thick mahogany hair needed trimming, and a few stray blades had materialised on his chest. They’d need to be plucked. On the other hand, he wasn’t sure if his clients would really mind. Fuck them. He liked being smooth.
He plucked the hairs out, showered and towelled off, moisturising the three small, angry red spots that now protested the plucking of his chest hairs. A barely noticeable flaw, it annoyed him nonetheless.
Two shirts caught his eye, both of which had been gifts. The white one with the faint gold pattern from Margaret, and the purple one from Andy. Eric checked his iPhone to confirm Margaret was his client for the evening, before choosing the white and gold. Wearing her gift would please her. Besides, the silk and cotton blend felt good against his skin.
He needed to find cufflinks, as much as he hated them. They were expensive, fiddly, and somehow managed to make his otherwise slim, perfectly shaped wrists look clunky. But the shirt had French cuffs, and Margaret would expect cufflinks. Eric opened the top drawer of his dresser and examined his options. The topaz might work. It was classy enough to please his client, but understated enough to imply his own resentment of the accessory.
Another scream from Joe, barely audible from Eric’s bedroom, broke his concentration. He accidentally knocked an empty Risperdal bottle off his bedside table. He quickly snatched it up and tossed it in the garbage. He didn’t know why Joe bothered. The man wouldn’t be heard by anyone outside, anyway.
Eric picked up the topaz links and tried to fasten them into the shirt’s cuffs. Joe cried out again. Eric wasn’t sure why, but the sound distracted and annoyed him. He finally gave up, finished dressing, and called a cab.
Jay on Joyfully Jay wrote:
Right from the start, I was gripped by this story. 18-year-old Eric’s mom has a busy career, leaving him alone for months at a time. All this freedom enables him to straddle multiple worlds – as a student producing one of Shakespeare’s more controversial plays, a boy toy to Margaret, an older female client, and as mate to Julien and Mary. Oh, and let’s not forget about the complicated relationship Eric has with the burglar tied up in his house and that godawful MP3 he keeps playing.
So even though there’s not a single likable character in this story, Eric’s conflicts, craziness and unpredictability kept me entirely enthralled, making me laugh, hold my breath, and shake my head in disbelief. I liked that Eric’s bisexuality is understated, yet unrepentant. I also appreciated the stellar writing which easily elevates this book into the literary realm.
This is the type of book best read without knowing any specifics, so I’m not going to spoil it for you. Just know that you’ll laugh your head off, be horrified, and question your sanity…or Eric’s.
A total mindfuck and one of the more creative books I’ve read in a while.
Puppet Boy is quite a story and one I know I didn’t begin to explain well enough. There is way too much that happens here, something dark and twisty that is only slowly revealed throughout the story, so there isn’t too much I can say here without spoiling this really fascinating book. But first let me back up. I first learned about this story when I heard author Christian Baines do a reading and I was totally intrigued. I didn’t know much about the book, but when I got the chance to review it, I jumped on it. So this book doesn’t really fall in one of our typical genres that we review here on the blog. It is definitely not a romance, not even close. I do think there is some love here. Or at least as close to love as someone like Eric can feel. But definitely not a romance. This also isn’t really GLBT fiction, though Eric does have sexual encounters with both men and women, and I think one could argue he has at least an attraction to men in some way. But that isn’t the focus of the story by any means. I wouldn’t quite call this horror, but that is closer. Puppet Boy is dark and twisty and at times horrifying and always surprising and engaging. I found myself both fascinated and repulsed by these characters, but I could not put the book down and I am really impressed with the story Baines has created.
There are a lot of things happening here, but this is not really a linear plot. We have Eric and Joe and this attempted burglary that somehow turns into a kidnapping. We have Eric’s job as essentially a teen gigolo, sleeping with the wealthy elite for the money to fund his film school education. To Eric, that is worth any sacrifice, even the client who calls him Boy and beats him until bloody. And there is the focus on the play, the one that is dark and horrifying and that Eric is determined to see performed, and that he and the other students explore with at times frightening realism. But as all these things are happening, the story is really about Eric, and to a lesser extent Mary and Julien, and how they make their way through the world, blurring the lines of ethics and lacking compassion and focusing on their own needs and desires.