Book Review: Not Quite Out | Louise Willingham

Alright. Finally picking up this piece. Way back in 2020 Louise reached out to me to see if I would beta read this book. I was excited. This was one of the first times someone had asked me to beta read anything. And then, maybe a couple weeks before sending out the beta drafts, I received my AVM diagnosis. The one that sort of said I had a stroke and that if I didn’t have a craniotomy to fix it or go under gammaknife to burn it out of my brain, I could die from another stroke. My priorities shifted from being able to do reviews, to sort of…putting my life in order and getting operations set up and hoping I woke up alive each day. Close proximity to death can shift your capacities for certain things. I woke up from surgery, which I thought was a miracle on it’s own, but it’s taken me a good six-seven months to get to a point where I could get back into reading other people’s books that cover dark topics.

I saw the cover come out for this and was just in love with the art style. It did take me a hot minute to realize the blond was not wearing rope binding under the sweater, but instead a pink collard shirt. My bad, but I rather liked the visual while it was stuck in my head. I’m not always a buy the book for the cover design person, but that tends to be a key factor in recent book choices. Because I have interacted with the author before, my interpretation of the color choices for the characters and the pastel coloring might have to do with the ace/bi flags and trying to represent this as a slice-of-life soft story, not something drastic in a fantasy/sci-fi element. I’ve notice this pastel coloration scheme becoming a big thing recently for melancholic slice of life. Not sure if that’s how it’s always been, but a trend that I’ve finally started looking at.

So. As a first run with only knowing the cover copy blurb. Let’s get into this thing.

Alright, first person present. I don’t run into this too often in a structured novel. It’s a common concept, well third person-present for short stories in anthologies, so that’s my first impression of, oh, cool, something different.

First chapter in and this tastes like first day of Sophomore year on college campus all over. That really awkward feeling where you’ve seen people from previous classes, people you went to high school with that you really wish you hadn’t seen again, running into a cute kid and suddenly going “nope, not admitting to that, but stick around please you’re really easy on the eyes, hey wait come back, why are you unhappy, did I do something wrong?” Seeing that in writing actually is kind of nice. A lot of the time, if I see someone upset or melancholic after having just interacted with them, I get really anxious as to if I had done something wrong or something had just happened and I should help them. Also, just crushing on people in general. Restaurants are painful when I suddenly have to talk to someone behind a counter that is within my type zone. Hello, goodbye capacity to talk. Relatable. Definitely relatable. Not sure why I feel so called out about this. Let alone running into said person who turns me mute and having to interact with them outside of “normal script” territory.

Chapter 2

Yeah, coming out can suck major. Especially when most of your prior interactions were with the opposite gender or people who pass as the opposite gender so everyone just assumes your hetero in the first freaking place! One of those moments where you can’t quite feel valid in your own skin saying your bi (or in my case pan) because you haven’t had much in the way of partners of variety that would help validate your claim of being something other than lesbian, gay, or hetero. I am pan as all get out, but I fit in what is a hetero-presumed relationship, and was in one before. I was scared for a long time coming out and saying anything about being pan, let alone trans because the few interactions I had with “same gender” was dancing at a club and internal pining major crush territory where I was terrified of saying something to the other person in case I miscalculated and they were really strait and I ruined a relationship. Again! Why do I feel really called out right now….?

Starting out the beginning with Daniel being able to ping pong between charming at his job and then fidgety, not meeting people’s eyes, closing down communication early on, and avoidance mechanisms can point to a couple reasons. Mental health of some variance and the symptoms that go with some type of abuse cycle, a drug addiction, or a personality that can’t take big crowds or unplanned interactions for more than absolutely necessary. I did retail for about six months and can tell you that I hated every minute of having that fake smile plastered on.

I float abuse cycle because I knew enough kids in my middle school and high school classes who had major avoidance flinch reactions because of atrocious home lives. I bring up possible drug addiction, which is normally caused by trying to escape the mental strain of an abuse cycle, because I was around enough kids in high school and college who were dealing with some type of an addiction to recognize that type of somber shut down evasion. The things you learn about people when you don’t judge them and let them unfold their lives to you. Certain reactions are easy to pick up on. I mean, Daniel’s reaction could also be that he murdered someone for all I know (but I’ve read the content warnings, so I’m jumping through assumptions here). Content Warnings are a thing. If certain topics are on your list of triggers, please read the warnings. If an author is putting it on their book, they aren’t doing it to make money.

Yeah. I get that concern William has. Find out one of the kids is hurting at school and try to help because you’ll hate yourself if you don’t, like you’re queasy about the idea you can’t do anything to help.

Interesting, the term for friend. I have an extremely narrow concept of how I would apply it. People who I know would show up for me if I called on the side of the road or needed something at the hospital. All else are acquaintances. And yet, there are a lot of people who call anyone who is nice to them and they’ve met friend. That actually happened a lot in school and college. I’m a freaking recluse now, so, not frequent at this point. It always felt unnatural to me, because though they said friend, which immediately meant I would show up and help and be there if they needed to talk, it was almost never a reciprocated relationship. I couldn’t even depend on any of my irl “friends” to read a book I wrote before I published, even after I published. They pretty much just said no when I asked. So, the use of friend and that need to help and be protective, I see it and am reminded of that twisting push and pull feeling of wanting a deep, meaningful relationship with people who I could depend on, but realizing that in reality, most people who use the term use it rather shallowly. As a way to say “we’ve talked before and they were civil.” Interesting.

Alright. Is it a me thing, the culture I’m in thing, or an American thing? I don’t think I’ve seen too many guys who will hold another guy’s hand in comfort around me unless their mom dies, and even then, it’s not a holding thing, but more a place hands between each other as they pull in for a hug so there is some maintained difference. Do British guys not do that? Is phsycial contact between men over there a lot closer than over here or am I just super touch averse and don’t notice it here? I swear, we talk the same language, but there are certain stretches of cultural difference that I find fascinating. Actually a song comes to mind “Is he gay or European” so maybe it is just an American culture thing. Again, observations.

Jeez, I remember joining up with the LGBT group on campus, tried to anyways. When they asked what I was and if I was seeing anyone, first of all – panic, a small ball of panic, thanks. What color does panic come in? Green. Mostly. No, really, I told them, when I’d gotten brave enough to open my mouth, that I liked everyone, or more to the fact that I was indifferent to a person’s biological structure but that I did have a boyfriend at that point. If they fit my type, I liked them. I was sort of hoping they would go “oh, you’re bi, congrats, here’s your little ribbon you can pin on when we’re doing club functions, we need help putting out chairs for the next film viewing, can you be here Wednesday at 6?” Uh. No. That’s not what went down. The LGBT group president told me to STFU and get out for being a greedy straight bitch playing with people’s actual feelings and not to come back because I didn’t understand what the community was about and was clearly not an ally if I was saying stuff like that. This was several years before finding out the word was pansexual. So, I just buried my feels into a deep dark hole for a good five years and whacked them with the end of a shovel every time they tried to pop up like zombie hands from a grave. Should I have said ally just to save my feelings? Maybe? But that felt like lying, and I didn’t want to lie when the group promoted themselves as “all inclusive, because you finally were able to give up lying to yourself.” What a bunch of effing BS.

Dude, broken ribs = no fun. Remember a kid getting a set done in during a football game and ended up learning a weirdly defined set of parameters for how that pain works. I’m curious and he actually talked to me because it was an oddly neutral topic. Painkillers aren’t even going to be half your worry. He was out for a good couple weeks before coming back, and he had someone help him carry stuff for a few weeks after because he was put on lift restriction and he grimaced for a few weeks after that about bring his hand up to his face, stretching, anything. He complained more about having to sit for so long because it compressed everything and made him more sore for it. Grant it, I don’t know what level of exaggeration he went through, and how much it really hurt, but learning it’s a good six weeks to knit and another two to stop hurting…just ick. And dude, I’ve done gallbladder surgery and pulled muscles in my ribs – like I went in and they did the whole number of scans on me and gave me morphine level pulled muscles (which I get hiccups on morphine and OMG you see stars with that kind of pain, bloody hate opiate derived substances) puking on pain hurts like hell, I’m not even going to imagine puking on broken ribs. Hello, no, just let me lie on cold tiles for the next couple hours, thanks.

Asking about painkillers. Oh, right, we just call it Advil over here or Tylenol. Extremely common for pretty much everyone to have the off brands in their cabinets and if someone looks remotely ouch, it’s like a southern hospitality thing in the same vein as offering someone food to break open the medicine cabinet and go “here, so you aren’t miserable.” If you go to someone’s house and they either don’t offer you food/something to drink and tell you to invite yourself to the kitchen, you probably aren’t really invited to stick around more than the front porch step for five minutes.

Now, a med student asking a guy who just got broken ribs if he needs ibuprofen should revisit nsad pain relievers class. Stuff’s a blood thinner. Tylenol was pretty much the only thing I was allowed to have after practically every surgery I’ve been through because hospitals can’t have patients on blood thinners and ending up leaking out all over the place and having major problems. Then again, maybe a difference in healthcare standards?

But yeah, if I saw people after any of those surgeries, it was pretty common for people who saw me to just go “need advil, need tylenol, need an ice pack, need to go lay down, need to go home?” And it’s just like “no, please shut up and let me distract myself by what is going on because I’m going to be miserable here or there and pain meds do jack.” I will say, AVM out, pain relievers actual work rather than just take the slight edge off. Hurray for living in constant pain all your life because a garbled set of arteries in your brain is resting between your visual processing center and your pain/motor control interpretation and processing center. Don’t mind me.

Moving on.

Some of the conversation line is more author driven then character driven, which, as long as you get a jist for where the interaction is going, does lead to jumping predictive paragraphs or gleaning. Just speech cadence is a bit off. Not overly noticeable, but it’s there, like the interaction was overthought, framed until it came out in a very exacting way. Maybe not for a shock factor, that’s not how this story works, but more like there wasn’t good timing set up for certain things to come out and what does is oddly phrased. That’s the feeling of it. Well that’s the feeling of college age life honest enough “not good timing”. I’m thinking it may be a difference in terminology and phrasing though between Britishisms and Americanisms.

Reference back to Dan’s addiction issues, it seems really staunch, or wrote. A slang term might have fit better, on this side of the pond. Again, I find the differences interesting. I got into a discussion just the other day on what a hob was because I had not seen it in text before. Apparently it’s the burner on a stove, which is apparently known as a cooker. I digress.

I can understand the recoil feel about the cigarettes and the addiction issue. One of those realizing someone has dependency issues, which normally stems from some mental health coping issues that have not been addressed through a useful means like self reflection and therapy. It’s watching someone burn themselves down. And you can’t quite tell how deeply you want to get involved between possibly getting pulled into the misery, trying to be helpful, but ultimately trying to keep yourself safe while hoping you’re providing an encouraging example of getting out and getting help rather than masking stress through the chemical fix.

It is quite honestly a slow slice of life. The type where you meander through emotions, self doubt, wanting to be a people pleaser, hoping against hope that someone else gets the idea of who you are, but you still have validity questions. Do you qualify? Can you qualify? Who can accept you for being you and who will burn that bridge? The characters are anxious and nervous and young and haven’t really experienced what the world is outside of the little bit of growing they’ve done. College age is hard. Really every age is hard. You’re left looking around the room going “where’s an adult, more of an adult than me?” You try your best to take responsibility, but you don’t quite have enough under your belt to be sagely confident and okay with letting the chips fall the way they do and accepting it. Some of that takes time. Some of that takes experience. Some of that takes someone showing you how to reach that place.

The book is thoughtfully constructed. The pacing fits for a slice-of-life theme. Some of the circumstances feel a bit contrived, but it’s not like I haven’t written in contrived scenes for my own personal needs and reasons. The tension and the set up work well for the content and context.

Personally, slice of life can drive me up the wall, especially slow burn, but that’s this story. It’s constructed to feel like that relatable awkward tension, knowing your self-doubt and internalized questioning monologue isn’t just a you thing, but that other people, other authors experience that same thing. There is most assuredly an audience for this work. I’m not one, but I can pass by an auditorium and appreciate a lecture when the prof is engaging, even if the topic doesn’t interesting me. Maybe I’m weird like that. Easily marketable to people who like pastel works and might want to do a bit of crying. I would qaulify the manga Say I Love you I did a review on a couple weeks ago as the same type of pastel slice of life, this one just gets into a couple nitty gritty categories it didn’t.

I tend to have to augment large amounts of emotions with something like vampires or dragons and action just so I can take five minutes from being in somebody else’s brain while they slowly try to deconstruct everything they do and analyse, if their choice was the right one. I go through reflecting back on conversations from middle school and still get embarrassed. Maybe that’s the thing with slice of life. It’s relatable, and some people find relatable comforting, and some feel called out and exposed for eliciting that emotion. They aren’t quite ready for that experience and don’t appreciate being in a position where they are facing it.

I’m trying to think of a good reflectionary example of what this is in terms of shows and movies I’ve watched. Really, it comes off Hallmark. At least in the contemporary literature sort of stylization and plot elements. The regular goings on of a series of people interacting with each other. Everyone being individual to themselves. William is a fleshed out ball of nerves and panic and just wanting to figure out who he is to himself, to people, and to the world. Dan fits into the scope of concern that can make a nervous ball of panic want to please them. The friends are trying to help as they can.

It’s very far from my normal reads and outside of my genre scope. The tone of A Silent Voice or maybe Your Lie in April comes to mind in a way. I’m not sure I can qualify why those ones outside of my low exposure rate.

Give it a test drive if you’re looking for that feel. Maybe you can give me a few ideas for other anime slice of life that would correlate well to this, seeing as I seem to be lacking in good genre rep for the topic. I really should broaden my entertainment materials.

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I am a writer and artist working through the Kavordian Library series. I write sci-fi, fantasy, lgbt romance.

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