‘Between Boyfriends’ by Michael Salvatore

Award-winning playwright Michael Griffo makes his fiction debut with the romance comedy, {Between} Boyfriends.

Griffo writes under the pen name of Michael Salvatore which, as he explains on his website, is his middle name. But novelist Salvatore could have better channeled playwright Griffo’s skills because Griffo must know what Salvatore forgets—timing is everything.

While there are some laugh out loud moments in this romantic comedy and a romance that’s worth waiting for—yet the wait is a little too long and the genuine humor is often bogged down in forced guffaws.

The story revolves around the romantic plight of handsome, gay Italian-American Steven Bartholomew Ferrante who is “between boyfriends” and frantically searching for love, abetted by a gaggle of gay friends who make the fags in “The Boys in the Band” look politically correct.

The book opens with Steven getting kicked to the curb by his hitherto doting boyfriend, Jack DiRenza—the first in a series of romantic plot twists that feel more like blindsides. Steven and Jack are the idyllic gay couple, shopping on a Saturday afternoon for “unnecessary kitchen appliances,” and then in one sentence, Steven is out on his ass. We’re never quite sure why and Salvatore doesn’t establish sufficient character motivation to make us believe in Jack’s Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde transformation.

Likewise, when Steven meets “in-between” boyfriend, Brian Oldsboro, he describes Brian as “the most beautiful face I had ever seen.” When Steven tells Brian about his crazy mother (like all four Golden Girls rolled into one), Brian responds, “I can’t wait to meet her.”

“With that one sentence I knew,” Steven thinks, “that we wouldn’t be having passionate yet meaningless sex within the hour; we would have a relationship.”

For the next six chapters, Salvatore scarcely gives us or Steven any reason to believe that Brian is anything but what he appears to be in a series of Barbie Dream Dates:

Brian and I were moving along at a nice pace, sleeping over at each other’s apartments a couple nights during the week, having affectionate and superhot sex, and making sure we made time in our schedules for date nights—nights spent doing something silly just to get to know each other better.

Then comes a New Year’s Eve party, where Brian, who had previously been the picture of sobriety, is a drunken bore but that hardly prepares the reader for his sober cold shoulder to Steven during Steven’s greatest hour of need. Life’s emergencies can reveal unsuspected character flaws, but unless Brian was having a schizophrenic episode, Steven and the reader should be able to look back at tell-tale signs of the creep beneath the skin.

The odd thing is that Salvatore provides the perfect plot device for Brian’s downfall—Brian’s best-friend-wannabe-boyfriend, Rodrigo. Rodrigo keeps insinuating his comically devious way into Steven and Brian’s relationship, so Salvatore could have easily put the blame on Mame for Brian’s cad-like behavior.

What suspicion Steven (and the reader) does have about Brian centers on his too-close friendship with Rodrigo. In one of the book’s funnier scenes, Steven sets Brian up to get caught red-handed (so to speak) in a compromising lie about a weekend business trip that he actually spent with Rodrigo.

But, as it turns out, Brian truly is innocent, and Steven’s jealousy seems groundless and petty. Salvatore dumps his own set-up.

While Salvatore’s romantic comedy instincts could use some sharpening, he has a razor-like sense of satire. When, in the first chapter, Steven ends up in bed with a phallically-challenged trick, the humor is mean-spirited and hilarious:

Ely was small. And I’m not referring to his height or personality, I’m strictly commenting on his penis.  And by penis I mean cock.  Though I don’t think a penis no larger than an adult male thumb should be called a cock. There is a hierarchical system in the gay world and nowhere is it stricter than below the waist…The reason Ely calls himself a dominant top is that he only way his thumb/penis can enter an asshole is to threaten it with execution.

When I read this chapter, I was reminded of the Robert Klane satire, “Where’s Poppa?” in which the erstwhile heroine, Gladys Hocheiser, encounters a series of inappropriate boyfriends (one of whom defecates every time he cums). But bitchy words like these should not come out of our romantic protagonist’s mouth—leave them to Steven’s size-queen side-kick, Lindsey, not Steven.  Steven should be the “straight man” of this comedy.

The humor should flow from his hapless circumstances as a love-lorn lad between lovers.  Romantic heroes aren’t supposed to be mean-spirited—even if it is funny.

Mostly Steven’s circle of dysfunctional friends, relatives and co-workers do the comic heavy-lifting—there’s a very funny bit about the Oscar as dildo—though sometimes the humor is too heavy-handed for their own good.  For example, in that same bitchy first chapter, when Salvatore relays the story of bitter, ex-Olympian Lindsey’s failed grab for the gold at Lillehammer, it reads like those dull sitcoms where instead of being funny, it just gets louder. Likewise, herpes as a comic motif just doesn’t work in a romantic comedy.

Salvatore is bitingly funny when he has Steven and his friends dress up as the Village People for Halloween and takes on the shallowness of much of what passes for gay social life. Timing is the main problem in these scenes though because they spend way too much time away from where the reader most wants to be—with Steven and his boyfriend, whichever one that turns out to be.

Ultimately, Salvatore provides us with a plot twist that truly is a twist and not just a blindside.  It works because it is believable though unexpected, and it, in turn, leads to another satisfying (and funny) twist that puts Steven where we wanted him to be several chapters back, in the arms of his true love. Salvatore gets the happily ever after just right.

By Michael Salvatore
Kensington Books
ISBN: 9780758246837
Paperback, $15.00