At the risk of sounding cliché, Bath Haus by P.J. Vernon is a sizzling sexy read. It captures a snippet of time in the life of two men in a long-term relationship together as their various secrets are coming back to haunt them. I’m just terrible at withholding information from people, (especially my husband) so I wasn’t able to relate to the anxieties that plague Oliver Park throughout this novel. Still, I know many people do hide things from their partners, and this book is a wild unspooling of what happens when those lies spin wildly out of control. It truly is a warning for those who prefer to hide their true selves. The explosive ending may change your viewpoint on everything that came before it, and there are no shortage of twists and big reveals in this book so not only are the characters on a constantly shifting landscape, the readers are too. It sounds uncomfortable, and at times it certainly can be, but the visceral charge of this writing is totally worth any and all discomfort you may experience.
Oliver is a recovering addict from Indiana, but has pulled his life together with the help of his lover Nathan, an older surgeon who comes from an extremely wealthy family. Together, they live in a beautiful townhouse with their dog Tilly, and to those outside their marriage, it appears as though they have the perfect life. But the book opens with Oliver visiting a Bath Haus, ready for a new partner, because his and Nathan’s relationship has gone stagnant and he feels stifled by all the control Nathan wields over him. When the hook up at the Bath Haus goes horribly wrong, Oliver is forced into a situation where he must confess to Nathan what happened, but concerned with losing his new life (and terrified of falling back into his addictions) he tries to cover it up instead The book rotates between Oliver and Nathan’s perspectives, and we learn that both men have dark secrets that they are keeping from each other, and as Oliver’s situation becomes even more desperate, it pushes their relationship to the brink, ending in a shocking and violent twist within the last few pages.
I love reading about relationships, and I’m so glad to finally have a break from the unreliable female narrator trope that’s so overused these days. Reading about these two (attractive) men and the crumbling façade of their life is a new kind of entertainment that I’ve been yearning for, the Gone Girl marriage stories are hopefully on their way out! It would have been easy for Vernon to make Oliver an unreliable narrator, he is a recovering addict so many people in his life don’t trust him anyway, but he ends up being one of the few people we can trust in this book. The characters that are depicted as shady, or unbelievable end up surprising us, and although my trust in Oliver wavered at times, I found my allegiance rarely did. He is trying to move on from mistakes in his past that he is deeply ashamed of, but he owns those mistakes in a way none of the other characters do. I appreciated that Vernon pushed us past our prejudices of a drug user to humanize Oliver. Still, many continued to unfairly judge Oliver for things that were completely out of his control, but they got what they deserved by the end.
The best way to describe this writing is carnal. Each description is steeped in the physical, and this is obvious even in the cover (which I love!). The heady descriptions of the criminal acts, and the even more intense descriptions of the anger and passion that come to a head between characters keep this book submerged in the dark world of desire. Not every scene happens in the cover of night, but because of the secrecy that permeates the plot, it still feels transgressive, even as the characters interact in the bright of day. It’s this atmosphere that creates the suspense. Thriller readers like myself will recognize the cliffhangers and plot twists, but this book’s power is developed through the small mannerisms of the men and the whiff of danger that comes with a simple cocktail order. It’s all very masculine and intense, but this is exactly what I want to read on a hot summer night!