When people start throwing around labels like “gay,” “straight,” or “bi,” I hold on to the conviction that most of us are attracted more to individuals than to a specific gender. This proposition can feel threatening to some, suggesting as it does that one might stray from a comfortably heterosexual life over to some unpredictable dark side if one met the right person. Nevertheless, I believe it's true. Teenage circle jerks with buddies; girlhood crushes; wine-drenched, one-of-a-kind evenings where you end up in bed with your best friend of the same gender; we tend to discount these experiences as flukes, but to me they demonstrate the flexible nature of sexual attraction, as well as how thoroughly it may be entangled with other emotions.
Rarely have I read a book that conveys this truth as effectively as Varian Krylov's Dangerously Happy.
Aidan is a shy, struggling musician, working a cubicle job to make ends meet while writing his songs and performing with a couple of bands. He's totally straight; he's had plenty of women as lovers including two serious relationships, one of which almost ended in marriage. Nevertheless, he's fascinated (and somewhat intimidated) by Dario, the owner of the vast downtown loft that serves as weekend gallery, theater and party space for a crowd of arty friends. Dario, a successful novelist, is handsome, articulate, and self-confident. “He was the one who looked like a rock star despite the fact that he was the writer and I was the musician... More than all that, it was how people always seem to hang on every word of his as if he were Socrates or the Dalai Lama or something, unless the cluster of acolytes in his orbit was bursting into sudden laughter at some witty remark of his...”
Weekend after weekend, Aidan's band plays for the impromptu gatherings in Dario's space. During the week, Dario invites the band to use the loft as rehearsal space. The charismatic author acts cordial with Aidan, but always a bit distant. Aidan wonders why after nearly three years of knowing one another, they're not closer friends.
Then one evening, Aidan shows up for rehearsal to discover that the other band members have canceled. Face to face with Dario, without a crowd to act as a buffer, Aidan feels the other man's magnetism more strongly than ever. Aidan plays one of his songs for Dario. Dario offers Aidan one of his stories to read. “It's … vaguely pornographic,” he warns. “In the most literary sense of course.” Aidan finds himself becoming aroused by the gay erotic tale and is terrified to realize there is a sexual dimension to Dario's appeal. The writer confesses that he's been attracted to Aidan for a long time – that his cool demeanor has been a compensatory strategy to avoid scaring Aidan away.
The two men begin a relationship – fierce, ecstatic, tender and profound. Their carnal connection goes beyond anything Aidan has ever known, but sex is only a part of what draws them together. Aidan finds he's “dangerously happy” as he struggles to accept his own homoerotic desires and to cope with Dario's wounded past.
The novel focuses on the development of Aidan's and Dario's relationship, with all its challenges and reversals. In this sense, it has something in common with a romance. However, both the barriers that divide them from one another and the acts that demolish those barriers are sexual. Violently raped as a youth, Dario has a paradoxical attraction to D/s power games. He initiates Aidan into bondage but the inexperienced musician misinterprets his lover's desires, jeopardizing their future. Dario makes rash decisions that similarly imperil their love. Each crisis brings them closer to one another but sometimes at great emotional cost. Still, they persevere, determined to surmount the obstacles created by societal attitudes and personal history.
I enjoyed reading Dangerously Happy. With their insecurities and their secrets, the characters are convincingly real. Mr. Krylov is skilled at evoking emotional nuances as well as the physical aspects of sex. The first person narrative, from Aidan's perspective, provides an intimate sense of both his joy and his confusion.
Readers looking for plot-driven fiction might be disappointed by this novel. Most of what happens involves shifts and realignments of the relationship between the two main protagonists. Also there's one segment – when Dario invites his female friend Vera to join them for a threesome – that felt gratuitous and artificial to me, mostly because of the extreme BDSM involved. While I could imagine Dario wanting to fulfill Aidan's sexual desire for a woman, I couldn't believe that a neophyte like Aidan would participate so readily in dominating a stranger.
The three way scenes with Xavier, on the other hand – a hulking Dom with whom Dario also has a prior history – felt genuine. Xavi recognizes and adapts to Aidan's inexperience in a plausible way. Furthermore, Xavi plays an important role later in the plot.
Overall, I strongly recommend this intelligent, sensitive novel about love that transcends labels. Although Dangerously Happy is distinctly different from the rough, anonymous, physically focused interactions that characterize some gay erotica, I found it both arousing and emotionally satisfying.