The 1950s. Postwar exuberance. Conformity. Rock and roll.
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 good things might happen, but the timing has to be right. 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?
It The 1950s is often described as “the good old days”. Nowadays, people tend to look back on it with a sense of innocence and nostalgia, but as Aqua Follies shows, the surface veneer poodle skirts and bobby socks hid a lot of things that were neither present nor nostalgic. Same-sex relationships were still criminal. It was a horrible time to be gay, or really to be different in any way. There was a lot of pressure to conform, and anyone who didn’t had the price in a big way.
Russell knows that all too well. He’s a gay man in deep denial who comes to Seattle as a coach in the annual Aqua Follies aquatic variety show. He has every intention of keeping his desires and a neat little box, finishing his summer job, and going home to Minnesota to marry his girlfriend Susie just like everyone expects him to. Then fate intervenes in the form of a sexy saxophone player named Skip who makes Russell feel things he never knew were possible. The relationship between the two men is a very slow burn interlaced with a constant push-pull. They are unquestionably drawn to one another, but both know that any attempt at acting on their attraction beyond an illicit fling is fruitless, after all Russell is going home in just a few days. What neither one of them counted on is how life changing just a few days can be.
This book was at once absorbing and infuriating. The slow burn drove me crazy. There were times I wished I could reach through the book and just shake Russ and Skip until they got their act together. At the same time, they seemed very real. The reluctance, confusion, and uncertainty felt realistic. There was no way for them not to be conflicted, living as they were in a society that told them they couldn’t be who they were, and that in fact, who they were was not only wrong but criminal. Acting on their desires could get them fines, jail time, or even electroshock treatment. They couldn’t have an easy love at first sight story, not in that time and place. There were times when the conflict was so real I doubted their happily-ever-after, but they get there eventually, and you cheer them on all the more because of the struggle.