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science fiction, new weird, old weird, very weird - and everything else. often, though not always, discussed in relation to gender identity and (a)sexuality.

The Runaway Gypsy Boy

The Runaway Gypsy Boy - Brina Brady Review, 07/19/2016

An opportunity wasted.

ETA: Can somebody maybe explain to me what happened here and where the four 1-star-reviews went in Goodreads' equation? I mean, I still see them, I just wonder why they don't show up in the overview. And yesterday it said 33 reviews, today it's 28? Huh?

It sounds so good, doesn't it?
Daniel, son of an Irish Traveller woman and a Romanian Roma, wants to escape the restriction of his clan, homophobia, and arranged marriages. He stumbles upon hot, ginger Dom Ronan, who runs a ranch for abandoned horses.

So much potential.

The story, unfortunately, was a hot mess. I can't help wondering if it's maybe some kind of elaborate joke? And now, when my head hurts from shaking, my eyes got a fine training from all the exasperated rolling they had to do, and I've gnawed a piece out of my desktop, I'm left with trying to write a review that's not just sarcastic and mean. Okay, here we go.

Let's start with the obvious. Let's start with the representation of Travellers.
Now, I'm not one to sugar-coat uncomfortable truth. If you want to address issues like criminality, homophobia, or arranged/forced marriages in Traveller communities, and/or the problems and misunderstandings occurring between Travellers and non-travellers, by all means, do so. Based on facts, providing context, and a bigger picture. But there's a huge difference between addressing problems – and taking each and every stereotype about a certain group you can find and put them into one book, without even showing so much as a glimpse of the bigger picture.
Here, the author did the latter.
It would have been great if she had used the given background to show us the differences between the travelling communities, Irish Travellers and Romanian Roma, their different costumes, traditions, languages, religion, history, and so on. No such thing happens. I don't know anything more about the Irish Travellers than I knew before, because they don't really show up in this book, and everything I got about Roma – well, you can guess: prejudices.

I've provided some quotes in my status updates (which sometimes got a bit venomous, I admit). Let's look at a few of them:
Daniel prided himself on being honest and law-abiding. He was nothing like his father or any of the other travelers. He knew his father lied and cheated for every penny he had. […] Most of the travelers never worked a full day in their lives, and many were on government assistance. Many of the clan members, including his father, had never made a honest living. However, Daniel refused to steal or con people, so he worked many hours a day painting, and then dancing at night. He'd been trained to pick pockets from an early age[...]

Or how about:
Apparently, he thought like a gypsy. They didn’t respect private property and believed it was for their taking, like his sleeping in another man’s stable. He had to learn to respect other people’s property more and forget the ways of the gypsies, even though he hadn’t meant any harm to anyone. This must have been the wrong thing to do. He needed to figure out what was acceptable in a world away from the clan, where swindling and stealing were the norm.

What does „thinking like a gypsy“ even mean?

Or take this:
Daniel began to understand that arranging a marriage in the outside world was unheard of. Just his bad luck to be born a gypsy.

Yeah, because “gypsies” have absolutely no clue about “the outside world” whatsoever.
Then there's Daniel's cluelessness about all things concerning “modern life” - although he went to school, worked as a painter, and a pole-dancer, he doesn't know how to use a coffee-machine, poor, primitive gypsy he is.

I'll say it again, I don't need a one-sided positive representation. That would be too simplistic. But I want realistic representation, and this is far from it. This is pandering to stereotypes, without giving facts or reasons.

I wouldn't even mind this quotes so much if they'd come from an unreliable, ignorant character. But this is not the case here. Other reviewers have already pointed out how the narrative voice doesn't leave you any chance of forming your own opinion. Every judgement is already made for you. I wanted to see if this changes somewhere in the book, if some sort of balance finds its way into the story, so I read the whole darn thing – and it just got worse and worse. The author kept re-iterating prejudices, without challenging them or providing the readers with the necessary context to draw meaningful conclusions for themselves. Everything she says here contributes to painting Romanian Roma as filthy, lazy, criminal, violent pieces of trash. With the notable exception of Daniel and maybe his Uncle Hanzi. But they were exactly that: notable exceptions, the two “good gypsies”, facing racist remarks from comic-book villains. If the author wanted to show real-life problems Travellers have to deal with, she failed.

The author mentions 15 beta-readers; after reading the book I have hard time to imagine that even one of them is a member of the Irish Traveller or Roma community.

[[If you are interested in some facts about Roma, you might check out Rombase by the University of Graz in Austria, dealing mostly with the situation of continental Roma, but providing a good overview over the different groups as well as over stereotypes and common problems; and the European Roma and Travellers Forum for recent news and developments. There seems to something similar for the Irish Traveller Movement. Seems like a good place to start some self-education. ]]

The casual racism, however, wasn't my only problem with this book. The other big problem was the major BDSM fail. I'm not in the lifestyle, I'm especially not into D/s, but I know enough to know that this is not how it works. Ronan isn't a Dom, he's a psychotic, abusive, stalking control-freak. Some reasons for that were explained as the story progressed, but the abusive nature of his relationship with Daniel was never really addressed. Daniel, who has been controlled and abused by his father for all his life and didn't even have one taste of independence, is stumbling directly into the next dependent, tightly controlled relationship. That's as far from consensual as you can get.
It even started in an abusive way. That's another issue here: Everything moves with warp-speed. Ronan sees Daniel in a gay leather bar, talks to him for two minutes, spanks him, has him stalked, finds him in his barn, mutual jerking of ensues and bang – big wuv. Within less than 48 hours, Ronan demands complete honesty and absolute trust from Daniel – and Daniel goes with it. Ronan introduces Daniel, a complete newbie, to BDSM, which means: he gives him a book to read, and next time you blink, he has Daniel collared. Now, insta-love and insta-lust stories can be fun, but this one showed a severe misconception about what BDSM means.

Further problems:
*cartoonish characters: all the „baddies“ are not only badder than bad, but also ugly, while all the „good guys“ are handsome and hot;

*everyone seems to think violence is the answer to all problems;

*everyone is absolutely obsessed with alcohol (beer, to be specific). I guess because Irish people just like to drink beer all day, you know, I mean – not stereotypic at all, oh no... (and just for the record, twist-off caps are very, very uncommon in Europe);

*oh, and the backwater Irish also like to beat up gay couples showing public affection, just so you know;

*the clumsy, very odd way the whole HIV testing thing was handled;

*amateurish prose, nonsensical dialogue, pronoun confusion, and general lack of editing;

*Americanisms all around;

*a lot of contrived drama;

*last but not least, unerotic, unsensual, very sweaty, and very hurried sex (as hurried as everything else in this book), completely deprived of any intimacy. I mean, seriously now:
Daniel's tongue swirled around the large mushroom head, and he dug his tongue inside the slit. He nailed it with his tongue, in and out with deep, slow strokes, then sucked the side of the shaft up and down.

Yes, he nailed the cock-slit with his tongue. It also happened the other way round, except that Ronan's hammering instead of nailing:

Ronan took Daniel's cock in his mouth again, swirling the tongue around the large mushroom head, and he dug his tongue into the slit again, driving Daniel into a ball of pleasure. Ronan hammered it in and out, mixing fast and slow strokes, and then sucked the shaft up and down like a ninja vacuum cleaner.

Copy & paste sex, yay. Mushroom heads get mentioned almost as often as beer, btw.

I could go on, but I think I've made my point clear.

Before reading, 07/17/2016:
So, this will be an exercise in morbid curiosity - and judging from other reviews, also in severe masochism.
I'm not an Irish Traveller, and everything I know about Irish Travellers is second hand. I'm South-East European Roma (from the Balkan area), living a rather privileged life in Western Europe for about two decades now. I do know however that a lot of the prejudices Romani face are pretty universal. The quotes from this book, the ones I've read so far, seem so outrageous, pandering to these exact stereotypes, that I just have to see for myself what it's all about. Pure masochism, as I've said.