Title: Personal Training: Workout 6
Author: Andrew Grey
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Characters: Holton and Marcus
Sub-Genre: Contemporary, Urban
Determined not to end up like his seventy-year-old diabetic father, Holton knows he needs to make a change. His quest to improve his health drives him to the gym, where he meets Marcus, a trainer with the body of a demigod. For three months Holton works hard, watches what he eats, drops a few pounds—and catches Marcus’s eye not only for his slimmer body but for his dedication.
Holton can barely believe it when Marcus asks him out, but he isn’t about to say no. Despite several common interests, though, Marcus and Holton have some roadblocks to overcome. A harrowing event from Holton’s past has made him gun-shy, and Marcus has insecurities of his own. If their relationship is going to work, they’ll have to get past their hang-ups and prove that what really matters is the man inside.
Holton is a forty-two year old gay man who lives alone, has never been in a relationship, and is terminally shy. He suffers from social anxiety and lacks confidence when it comes to interacting with others. Not only does Holton find it difficult to build friendships, but he has some rather serious trust issues. He battles against low self-esteem and thus doesn’t believe it’s really possible for others to even like him.
After attending a birthday party for his father where he overhears family members commenting on him, comparing him to his dad, Holton realizes that he’s got to do something to change his life. He resolves to begin with the physical. He joins a gym and goes on a weight-loss program. Within months he is a new man—on the outside.
Internally, though, Holton still has all of the same issues. It is when he catches the eye of his personal trainer, Marcus, that his real problems begin to surface. He initially is flattered and shocked that Marcus is even interested in him, and as that interest starts to blossom into something more serious, Holton is nearly paralyzed with fear. Although he realizes his panic is irrational, he is all but powerless to overcome it.
Andrew Grey is one of my favorite M/M fiction authors, and although I can honestly say I have enjoyed literally every book of his that I’ve been privileged to read, this one was especially meaningful to me. Upon first glance, I noted that almost every element of this story was wrong. Personal Training does not give us a young, aesthetically perfect protagonist who is drop-dead-gorgeous, charming, witty, and the envy of every gayboy on the planet. Instead he gives us a middle-aged, somewhat overweight man with average looks. The protagonist is not only shy, but his self-esteem issues make him socially retarded and practically unapproachable. He is overly attached to his parents, particularly his mother. Worst of all, he’s a virgin.
If those elements alone are not enough to make the premise of this story unappealing, add to this that the love interest, Marcus, is initially rather shallow. He overlooks Holton and later feels a bit guilty for his behavior, wondering if he is too focused upon the superficial.
With all of this being said, the very same reasons that would likely cause me to dismiss this story altogether are the reasons that it is so exceptional. The portrayal of these flawed characters makes this story so real. As the character Holton is revealed, it becomes clear why he is the person that he is, and how very wrong it is to judge him for his shortcomings. It is also significant that a character as wonderful as Marcus is not perfect. The vast majority of us claim that we are attracted to a man because of who he is internally, but deep down don’t we tend to judge a book by its cover?
The manner in which the protagonist and his love interest come to know one another is one of the best examples of character development I’ve seen. Like layers of an onion, Holton’s true identity is slowly and carefully peeled back until he is completely exposed. The depiction is emotional, heartbreaking, and eye-opening.
This is a story that evokes extremely powerful emotion. Within a series that may at first appear to focus upon physical beauty, Andrew Grey raises some important questions about what real beauty actually is. His story also confronts the issue of how we deal with those people who have been victimized. There is a prevailing attitude that if a person suffers from low self-esteem and poor social skills they are simply self-pitying, and they need to just pull themselves up by the bootstraps, man-up, and quit their whining. Some readers seem to have zero tolerance for sympathetic characters. This story reminds me why such themes are so very important.
I loved the story, and as it progressed I fell in love with both central characters. It was beautifully written, well edited, and delivered a very uplifting message. The lovemaking scenes were sensual and romantic, and the ending was quite happy though realistic. Honestly I think this is the best Andrew Grey novel I have read so far. I highly recommend it.
Reviewed By: Jeff