“He cupped Mark’s face and kissed him softly. “But I’ll happily stay in the closet and on this stupid show if it means protecting you.””
In a word: Read the thing. I really liked this one, and I can’t wait to get to the rest of the series. The writing was great, as I’ve come to expect from L. A. Witt, and I was instantly sucked into the romance between the two leads. Also there was pining, and I’m always here for that. Chandler and Mark both broke my heart because they were both stuck in this completely shit situation, through no fault of their own, and really only had each other to rely on. Like Mark’s situation with his family was bad enough, but the whole thing with the TV show just made everything even worse. This story was both romantic and angsty, and I loved it. Even better is that it’s told from the point of view of both men, so we get both their takes on the events and their feelings. I really came to feel for Mark and Chandler and I couldn’t help rooting for them and their relationship. The TV people and the other mechanics in the garage made for good villains, especially the ones that got names. Despicable people. I really hope that we get to see more of Mark and Chandler in the future because, as much as I enjoyed the ending, I’d really like to see more of them as a happy couple, finally free to be together.
THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS
The Trigger Warning: This book contains homophobic language, manipulation, and a character showing signs of depression.
The Series: Wrench Wars is a series of (as of this writing) four novellas written by L. A. Witt and Marie Sexton. I’ve only read the first part so far and, as far as I know, all the stories take place in the same universe and all feature mechanics. The series’ title, Wrench Wars, also refers to the in-universe reality show of the same name in which garages compete with each other on the show to see which one is the best (or who can provide the best ratings). Each installment in the series focuses on a different couple.
The Couple: Chandler Scott is a goddamn saint and deserves every bit of happiness coming to him. He’s a mechanic doing the work he loves in a place he hates. Mark Irving has been Chandler’s best friend since childhood and is currently also his co-worker. They both have money problems that essentially have them trapped in their tiny town. Chandler isn’t really doing too bad for himself; he has his own place and can more or less keep himself afloat. Mark is another story; he’s drowning in student debt, even two years after graduating college, and is stuck living with his homophobic family and working a job he hates. He’s pretty much trapped in the closet because he knows that his parents will completely disown him if they find out he’s gay, and then he’ll be out of both a home and a job. Both Chandler and Mark are trapped, they both work for Mark’s father in his garage, which is pretty much their only job prospect, and if they can just keep their heads down and work hard they may be able to scrape up enough money to get out. They’re already a couple at the start of the story, sort of. They’ve been fuck buddies since Mark returned from college. It started out as casual sex between close friends and a way for Mark to secretly stick it to his father, but it’s since turned into very real feelings on Chandler’s end. It’s a bit bittersweet reading about them together, especially from Chandler’s point of view because he is in love with Mark but he doesn’t think that Mark returns those feelings. And I say he’s a saint because, even without knowing how Mark feels, he’s ready to sacrifice so much (even his health) to protect Mark from his father’s wrath. As it happens, the situation they find themselves in makes Mark realize that he’s very much willing to stick with Chandler, even without the sex, and it’s enough for him to decide to make some sacrifices of his own. These two are really good together and I loved reading their interactions. It was a bit sad to read about them pining after each other and how much they had to suffer because of things happening outside of their control, but that just made them finally being together and in love all the more satisfying when it happened.
The Show: The main point of conflict in this story doesn’t come from Chandler and Mark’s relationship. It actually comes from a reality TV show, Wrench Wars, that wants to feature the garage Chandler and Mark work in. The premise of Wrench Wars is to have two or three garages competing against each other to see who can better fix up old and/or wrecked cars (or something along those lines). It’s like a reality documentary type show you’d probably find on the Discovery Channel, or something. Having the show feature the garage would be beneficial to its employees in that it would provide hefty paychecks and maybe give the mechanics opportunities to find better jobs elsewhere. It would also give a boost to the garage and maybe keep it from folding for another couple of years. All the workers are required to sign a contract in order to be featured on the show. Chandler doesn’t want to be on the show and doesn’t want to sign a contract. He knows the only reason that they want him on the show is because he’s constantly getting into screaming matches with his boss and they would make for great ratings. The title of the book, Last Mechanic Standing, actually refers to Chandler being the last holdout with signing his contract. And we learn pretty quickly that Chandler was better off without having Wrench Wars in his life because being in that environment makes him miserable to the point where it seems like he’s sliding into a depression. The people in charge of making the show are really only interested in ratings, so they prod and poke at the mechanics to get them to the point where they snap and cause a scene that’ll be interesting enough to keep people watching. One good thing to come out of the whole mess though, was the way Chandler and Mark’s relationship developed as having to support each other in new ways made them (but mostly Mark) realize a few things about their feelings.
The Side Characters: With the exception of Chandler and Mark’s friend Emily, who is a mutual friend helping them with their secret relationship, all the side characters are the ‘villains’ of the story. There’s Mark’s father Jim, owner of the garage and homophobe and general fuckwit extraordinaire. Jim is a despicable human being, especially in the way he treats his son. Mark is completely trapped under Jim’s thumb, relying on him for housing and employment all the while knowing that Jim will absolutely disown him if he ever comes out. Along with being a terrible father Jim is also a terrible boss, as evidenced with the whole mess with the Wrench Wars TV show and the way he allows the garage to become a toxic workplace because of it (this is especially evident when we learn about how another garage on the show has things set up). The TV show ensures that the garage is full of crew and staff, but the only ones we actually get to know by name are Adam and Cody, who are two of the producers, I believe. Cody gets one scene and we don’t really get to know exactly how much influence he has over everything, but we do know that he definitely cares more about the show’s ratings than the mental health of the mechanics on it. We see more of Adam and he is so much worse than Cody. He’s the one directly blackmailing Chandler (and Mark, by extension, I suppose) and he doesn’t seem to care that if he reveals the information he has he could possibly completely ruin Mark’s life, and even put him in danger. Adam is the perfect stereotype of vicious reality TV producer, placing ratings above literally everything else. He didn’t come up with the idea of secretly filming the garage after hours to catch Chandler and Mark together, surprisingly. He was tipped off by the only other mechanic in the garage who gets a name, Tom. Tom is an asshole. Like Chandler and Mark, he also has money troubles and Wrench Wars could be his ticket to bigger and better things. He’s pissed at Chandler for not signing his contract so he comes up with the idea to blackmail him into it. He knows about Chandler and Mark’s secret relationship and apparently doesn’t think it’s a big deal to use it against them. I really hate Tom. I get that he’s not exactly friends with Chandler or Mark (actually, I think he’s even a lot older than they are) and that he’s in a desperate situation money-wise, but the fact that he didn’t even bother trying to, like, guilt Chandler into signing before going straight to putting them in possible danger (he knows Jim and his feelings about homosexuality, he knows that it won’t end well for Mark if that gets found out) makes me feel absolutely no sympathy for him.
The Sex: Chandler and Mark have a pretty healthy sex life, being fuck buddies and all. They have to be insanely careful about how they go about hooking up because they live in a small town and word gets around fast. Knowing that just makes their first sex scene in the book an awkward read for me because I know that it’s gonna be their downfall, as it were, and I just couldn’t forget that and enjoy the scene. Chandler and Mark often have sex in the garage after hours (a great ‘fuck you’ to Jim, apparently), which was pretty risky even before there were cameras everywhere. Mark’s idea to have sex on top of someone’s car (which, ew, in and of itself) while Wrench Wars’ cameras are set up seems like a very bad one. And knowing that that’s what eventually gets them caught really takes the enjoyment out of the scene. That’s the only scene like that though. Every other time they’re shown having sex there’s no dread hanging over everything. I liked those scenes a lot better. Especially the ones after they’ve both realized that they’re totally in love with each other. Fluff and smut, with feels even. Probably not as exciting as fucking all over the garage, but I liked the emotional punch of those scenes a lot more.
The Writing: After reading a few titles by L. A. Witt I can say that I definitely love her writing. Last Mechanic Standing continues that trend because I have nothing bad to say about the writing here (other than I wish the story were longer because I want to read about Chandler and Mark being happy and out together, but whatever, can’t have everything). I really loved Chandler and Mark, both as individuals and together, and I loved the emotions portrayed in the writing. I enjoyed the conflicts and the way being on the show negatively impacted Chandler (even though it was sad to read). I also loved the way that Chandler and Mark finally decided to be together and that there wasn’t a huge crisis over it (mostly on Mark’s part).
[Last Mechanic Standing was published July 6, 2016, by Dreamspinner Press, it is only available in ebook format]