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Jerry Cole: More Than Friends – The Complete Second Story

Jerry Cole--More Than Friends - Book 2 - The Complete Second StoryAnd we’re back for round two. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a writer as well or it’s simply a condition of my curious nature, but I enjoy dissecting other writers’ thought processes, seeing if I can unstitch the seams, hidden or otherwise. And it is to that end that I wind up reading things that I really should give up on. Initially I decided that book 2 wasn’t worth the effort, but since I am nothing if not fair… and curious, I gave it a go to see how Cole attempted to make amends. I knew he would.

I can tell that Cole figured he’d get some of his redemption out of the way early. The first chapter was Claire’s point of view and she regaled us with her courtship and state of bliss featuring Ali.

Fail.

Claire talks about how Ali views and treats women, and I guess it’s supposed to be a sweet and noble sentiment, but “every girl is somebody’s mom” is stupid. Every girl is a person. She doesn’t need to be chained to someone else’s personage or a function she serves in someone else’s life to matter. The same would never be said for boys and fatherhood.

Yeah, I didn’t like Claire in the first book, or rather, I didn’t like how Cole used her. And I like what he used her for in the second book even less. She started going to AA. That’s great, but Clint drank excessively, too, but he didn’t have to go to AA, it wasn’t even mentioned. Granted, he curbed his drinking after he and Eric got together, but as soon as things went downhill, he turned to alcohol. She started going to therapy. This was also great, but considering the life that Clint had lived and was still living–his father raising him as a soldier instead of a son; his father mentally and physically abusing him; his father nearly killing his boyfriend; his unresolved feelings about his mother; and being gay, but planning for a life in the military–he had plenty of things to reconcile that he really should have sought therapy to help him work through. But no.

Claire and Ali had been dating for sometime and everything was great, but she said he was too good to be true, and her reasoning was that he’d never made an advance to have sex with her and resisted all of her advances. First, she thought that she was unwanted (something wrong with her if she isn’t wanted), then she wondered if he was gay (something wrong with him if he doesn’t want her). So, one day, she freaked out on him. He, of course, explained, chastised, that it’s neither of those, but that he hasn’t tried to sleep with her because she is not a whore and he isn’t an animal. And this, this is what makes everything alright for her, with her, eases her worries. This.

I weary of the idea of a woman coming to understand herself through the eyes of a man; the idea of a woman coming to understand herself self-worth through the eyes of a man, or banking on any of that because a man approved, agreed, encouraged, said.

You know, fine. In and of itself, there isn’t anything wrong with Claire’s characterization–it is just one of so many that could be. Except that it’s not. Cole could have written the other female characters to balance out Claire, but he didn’t. She is the most prominent female in the entirety of the series, but all the other women seem like thinly veiled facets of her. If the men, including the minor characters could be diverse, why not the women?

Claire was Claire, but there was also Sophia, Clint’s long lost sister who came on the scene reeking of trouble. Rather than being upfront about her dire situation, she was written to be underhanded, conniving, and throwing herself at a man who was only using her. Her redemption was essentially wrapped up in her being desperate at one point and eventually seeing the error of her ways, but not knowing how to undo her mess without making a bigger one. All her wrongs were righted by a man.

Then there was Clint’s mother who was demonized for abandoning her son to a unstable man. Her story was tidied up by making her out to be unaware of the type of man Clint’s father turned out to be and by her bequeathing her company to Clint. But it didn’t take long before all of that was undone when Clint’s father’s unraveling was pinned on the fact that she left him. He was so in love with her that it broke him. So even though he’s in jail, he’s being let off the hook in someway because of something this woman did.

Now, Eric’s mother was made up to be this over the top, overly emotional, eccentric woman who annoyed Eric and hated Clint and didn’t want them to be together (I can’t remember if part of that was due to their sexuality, but I think so). It took her death for her personality, quirks, and flair for the dramatic to be seen as something endearing and okay rather than more checks on the list of why women shouldn’t be president.

Side note. After Eric’s mother passed away, Clint and Eric were in a diner and Eric broke down and when Clint told the concerned waitress why, she offered pie. Only in America is pie the appropriate response to grief.

The last woman with more than a cameo appearance is Mrs. Reginald, the wife of one of Clint’s superiors. She was understanding and caring and supportive of her son who was a gay Marine. I was hoping for too much. Some of her support came in the form of acknowledging, accepting, and perpetuating the division between Army men and their significant others: men are the conquerors and women are the caretakers. As if that alone wasn’t enough, Eric and Mrs. Reginald’s son-in-law–who was married to her son and was also a Marine, but deemed the pretty one–were relegated to the section of womenfolk. Yeah.

The same thing I said for Claire goes for all of the other women; individually these are not bad depictions–there’s a lot you can do with them, but put together like this, it’s sickening. The women have no agency and anything that seemed like it at anytime was eventually attached to her relationship with a man.

And yet, I’ve hardly scratched the surface of the story, though after all I’ve said, I kind of feel like… what’s the point.

If you can believe it, book 2, overall, was much better than the first one. Cole was making up for certain losses, impracticalities, and imbalances that were staged in the first book. The writing is a lot better, more engaging, better flow, there’s a lot more tension, real tension; and there’s a marked sense of growth in characters. Though they’re still dealing with a lot of the problems that have spilled over from volume to volume. Problems don’t just go away–usually–so this book, in its misguided way, is making amends and there’s sense of cleaning up in the aftermath. Not that any of that makes up for the failures, but it’s still worth mentioning.

The past comes back to bite both Eric and Clint and it hangs around long enough to threaten their futures. About 60% of the way through I tried to call it. With the inheritance, its stipulations, and Sophia; the slimy guy chasing Eric; Eric’s mother; Claire trying to get her life together and reconciling with her former sort-of-friends–there were a lot of loose ends to tie up. I was very close with everything centering on the inherited company, though there were somethings I didn’t see coming, but that’s all a part of the happy ending model that relies on “anything goes” logic. At this point, I’m not in the mood to complain about it.

Even though she was a significant part of the story, Claire didn’t show up all that much in this book. However, while I had my issues with it, her opening the book worked out to be a great setup for Cole using her voice to close it. Even after everything I’ve complained about, the story had a decent the ending. Claire remarked that after Eric and Clint said “I do”–yup, they got married–Eric was beaming and Clint looked like he just got away with the crime of the century. And I have to tell you, that was a perfect description. I can’t say exactly what that look is like, but considering the person he was and all the crap he put Eric through, Clint really didn’t deserve him. And that he somehow managed to get Eric to put up with him until death do they part… yeah, that line was so perfect.

If you haven’t guessed it by now, I’m not a fan of Jerry Cole. He’s off my list. People can change and writers live thousands of lives, so I never dismiss them completely, but since The Complete Second Story was released in this year, it’ll probably be 2018, ’19 before I consider giving him another chance.

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