I was excited when Aqua Follies launched a week or so ago, not only because it was written by my friend, Liv Rancourt, but also because I was an early beta-reader on this book and have been following its journey from the sidelines. So I guess this book is close to my heart and I want to share it with you.
Aqua Follies – blurb
The 1950s. Postwar exuberance. Conformity. Rock and roll. Homophobia.
Russell tells himself he’ll marry Susie because it’s the right thing to do. His summer job coaching her water ballet team will give him plenty of opportunity to give her a ring. But on the team’s trip to the annual Aqua Follies, the joyful glide of a trumpet player’s solo hits Russell like a torpedo, blowing apart his carefully constructed plans.
From the orchestra pit, Skip watches Poseidon’s younger brother stalk along the pool deck. It never hurts to smile at a man, because sometimes good things can come of it. Once the last note has been played, Skip gives it a shot.
The tenuous connection forged by a simple smile leads to events that dismantle both their lives. Has the damage been done, or can they pick up the pieces together?
Aqua Follies – my review
There’s so much to love about Aqua Follies. The mid-1950s is not your usual setting for a male/male romance novel, but Liv Rancourt brings that era to life brilliantly well. There are party phone lines, jazz lounges, and pomaded pompadours. There are blazers and ties for the men, curled hair and red lipstick for the women. There’s the behaviour ‘accepted for a young lady’ and the girls struggling to break free of the shackles. And of course there’s the awful social and legal persecution of men suspected of being gay.
Aqua Follies is not a ‘sweetness and light’ read. It’s gritty and uncomfortable much of the time, because the society these young gay men are forced to live in is just so horrible. They’re forced to hide everything they feel, hide everything they do, hide in fact their true selves from the world.
For Russell, this results in denial and suppression, deep shame at being ‘perverted’, guilt when he succumbs. For Skip, on the other hand, raised among musicians and theatre types, it leads him to boldness and sometimes rash actions.
Skip is a loveable character. He’s open-hearted and he follows his heart. He’s part of an accepting community, and although he has his own struggles, he’s fully accepting of himself and goes after love with everything he has.
It’s really Russell’s story though, and he is a lot more complicated, constantly battling himself, denying himself, despising himself. He comes across as an asshole a lot of the time as he tramples Skip’s poor heart again and again, but his fears are very understandable and real. I adored him in the first third of the book, really felt for him as he found his object of desire and battled certain dark thoughts while trying to conform to the hetero ‘norm’. Then I got mad with him during the middle — and felt every bit of Skip’s frustration as Russell blew hot and cold cold cold. By the end, though, he melted my heart with his eventual self-acceptance and earnest love for Skip, especially as he takes decisive action and changes things in his life to be with him. Even though his self-realisation takes a while to arrive, he gets there in the end.
Overall, it’s a fabulous book that brings the 1950s to life and tells a fairly difficult love story that continues to resonate in my mind. The writing is slick and accomplished, the supporting characters vivid and present, the sex scenes judiciously placed and by no means gratuitous.
This is a novel with depth and complexity at both the emotional and historical level — as much a novel of Russell’s coming of age and a portrayal of life in the 1950s, as a romance. I now want a sequel to see how Russell and Skip get on with their lives, because the ending seems quite open-ended, particularly given the precarious nature of such relationships at that time.