Monday, December 30, 2013

Review: Filth by M. King

Reviewed by Elbie
Filth by M. King
Dreamspinner Press
Novel: 210pgs
5 Pants Off

Does gender really matter?

Kel and Toni are damaged people trying to find answers. While Kel pins his hopes on support groups to keep him on the straight and narrow, Toni looks for absolution in a bottle of Mexican hormone pills.

Kel loves Toni obsessively, and though he supports them on the money he makes turning tricks with strangers and regular clients, he struggles with the reality of Toni’s transition and her motives for doing it.

While Kel grapples with his worries and the attentions of regular client Michael—otherwise known as the Sherbet Pervert—Toni faces different problems. Danielle, a transgender woman, best friend and role model to Toni, thinks Kel is a bad influence and pushes Toni to leave him. But Toni holds off because deep down, she knows she’s not like Danielle.

Kel and Toni’s desperate attempts to build a life together make them realize their survival is precarious. And then two unrelated events show them how easily their harsh little world can crumble, bringing them confront some difficult truths.

The first time we meet Kel, he's in a clinic getting his HIV test, a necessary part of the job for a street hustler. Our glimpses into his world are of a hard life in a dirty city. The only true light in his life is Toni and Toni is a mess. He's restless, unhappy, and struggling to transition from male to female with little support and even fewer funds. But, there is love there. Can that love survive Kel's reluctance over Toni's transition and Toni's fear about Kel's dangerous job?

The world of "Filth" is harsh, cold, and utterly realistic. The title evokes both the rundown part of the city in which they live and the way people view them; a whore and an unglamorous pre-op. Kel and Toni inhabit their world in a natural way. They accept their socioeconomic reality, just wanting a little better than they have now. They are just two of the millions of unseen poor that are not represented in romance novels.

There is nothing glamorous about these lives. Everything is authentic about the relationship, though. Their love isn't always pretty. We see glimpses of the past and there are spikes of violence.  There is still conflict between them. Toni is frightened about Kel's job, but relies on it. Kel doesn't want Toni to transition. He loves Toni, the man, and all of the parts that come with that.  Toni is not without doubt about transitioning, either, but he wants to escape his body, the vessel that has carried him through tumult and abuse. But no matter what, Kel and Toni hold each other up and see a future together, even when they don't dare think their lives will be better.

I thought this book was engrossing and beautiful. Reading it was an almost voyeuristic experience. Kel and Toni felt real.  Their doubt and fear and overriding need for each were beautifully conveyed.  It was a nice change from the perfect men populating too many romance novels, those concerned with the gym and cocktails.  Kel and Toni are men you'd pass on the street and never notice.  And that's a shame.  They, and their love story, are worth noticing.

Five pants off.

5 Pants Off

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