“Being inside cars like this one did something to him – something that wasn’t normal, by most people’s standards.”
In a word: Read the thing. I didn’t like this one as much as I did the first one, but that was mostly due to my personal preferences. It’s a good story about a man learning to be comfortable with himself and overcome his insecurities about his sex and social lives. It’s not even really a romance story, not completely. The main arc of the story seems to be mostly about Kasey, the main character, learning to be comfortable in his own skin. It just so happens that it’s a potential for a romantic connection that kicks it off. Rich, sexy lawyer Brandon seems like insecure Kasey’s complete opposite, but that doesn’t do anything to stifle their attraction to each other. I thought that they moved a bit quick, considering Kasey’s anxieties, but at least they didn’t exchange ‘I love you’s at any point. Their relationship, at this point, seems more about sex and companionship than love, but the two of them are good together. There is also some good development on Kasey’s part in regards to his relationships with his co-worker at the garage and his estranged brother, which is where I felt the heart of the story really was and would have liked to see fleshed out more.
THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS
The Series: This is the second installment of the Wrench Wars series, which features novellas about mechanics written by L. A. Witt and Marie Sexton that take place in the same universe. The title comes from an in-universe reality TV show of the same name that features car garages competing with each other on car repairs. The TV show doesn’t play as big a part in Normal Enough as it did in Last Mechanic Standing, though it does still have a presence. I’m not sure where this one falls in the timeline as Chandler and Mark, the couple from the first part (Last Mechanic Standing by L. A. Witt), do not make an appearance or are even mentioned. The only thing that seems to connect this story in any way to the first part is the Wrench Wars TV show and the fact that Kasey works for Reggie Snyder (who called and offered Chandler a job at the end of Last Mechanic Standing).
The Couple: Kasey Ralston is a mechanic working in one of the garages featured on the Wrench Wars reality TV show. He works in the part of the garage not featured on the show, too nervous and insecure to even consider putting himself in any kind of spotlight. He comes from a somewhat broken home and that’s left him with a fear of social interaction and putting himself out there, among other things. Brandon Kenner is a lawyer and a car collector. Despite being the second half of the romantic couple in this story, Brandon doesn’t get a lot of screen time and we don’t actually know that much about him. We do learn, through Brandon telling Kasey, that their backgrounds are actually quite similar (they both come from working class families) and that Brandon has a history of dating men with fetishes. Brandon doesn’t even get his own point of view, which just made it harder for me to connect with him. It also kinda drives the point home that this is firmly Kasey’s story of learning to come out of his shell more than it is a romance story. Though, speaking of romance, I didn’t find the one in this story overly romantic. Which I put down to either my personal biases about how romances work, or the fact that this feels more like the very beginning of a relationship. Bandon and Kasey meet entirely by chance when Brandon takes one of his cars to be checked out at the garage. Personally, I think Brandon comes across mostly as creepy in the earlier scenes because the only reason he seems interested in Kasey is because he notices how Kasey gets turned on by his car and then just starts piling on the innuendoes. He then insists, after only knowing Kasey for less than an hour, that Kasey keep the car in the garage overnight so he can ‘enjoy’ it. Also I felt that he was really pushy about the fetish. So, yeah, Brandon came off as mostly creepy to me. That apparently does it for Kasey though because he does make use of the car later and continues to see Brandon. He develops a really quick connection to Brandon and suddenly just lets him in on his whole life story and issues after knowing him only a few days. It’s weird, though I mostly chalk that up to the novelty of finally meeting someone who makes him feel like a ‘normal’ person, in spite of his fetish.
The Fetish: When I first read the summary for this book I misunderstood and thought that Kasey had a muscle fetish. Which I found weird because that doesn’t seem like a weird enough fetish for people to feel embarrassed over (although, what do I know, really). Then I started reading and learned that Kasey’s fetish is actually about muscle cars, which is one of the weirder fetishes I’ve heard of. Kasey isn’t actually interested in having sex with the cars, or anything, it’s more that he associates certain cars with memories of his teenage years that involved (copious) masturbation. It’s almost like he accidentally conditioned himself to expect sexytimes whenever he’s in certain cars. Really, it’s not a completely out-there fetish, but for whatever reason it’s become a secret that Kasey seems willing to take with him to the grave. Kasey spent most of his life being ashamed of his fetish, and it’s not until he meets Brandon and Brandon encourages him and lets him know that it’s okay to indulge that he really lets himself have fun with it.
The Side Characters: There aren’t many side characters that are named. Random mechanics and TV people are sometimes mentioned but they mostly seem to be part of the background. Reggie Snyder is there once or twice, he’s the owner of the garage and he’s mentioned at the end of Last Mechanic Standing (the first story of the series), and he’s the only recurring character in the series. Kasey has one friend(ish) in the garage, a mechanic named Tony who works in the neighbouring workspace. I like Tony. He’s older than Kasey and seems hell-bent on befriending him, though not in an overbearing way. He’s always asking Kasey to have a drink with him (literally a drink between friends, there are absolutely no romantic interactions between them), but always accepts the no and doesn’t give Kasey shit for it. I did have to laugh when Kasey finally accepts (after gaining confidence from Brandon’s validation and realizing that having a friend won’t actually kill him) and Tony takes him to Hooters even knowing that Kasey is gay. He’s a good guy. The other major side character is Richie, Kasey’s estranged brother.
The Brother: Kasey’s family is mostly shit, as was his childhood. He was very close to his mother, who was his only ally in the house, but she died when Kasey was 10. After that Kasey was left with his homophobic and abusive father and his three much older brothers. Kasey never felt like he fit in with his family, and his family never gave him real cause to disprove that. At this point Kasey’s father is dead, one of his brothers is dead, another one is in jail (again), and the other brother is Richie. Richie seems to have finally pulled his head out of his arse and feels bad about the way he treated Kasey when they were kids. He’s married with children of his own now, and now that Kasey is technically the only brother he has left available to him, really wants to reconnect with him before it’s too late. Richie doesn’t actually show up in person as he doesn’t live in the area (Kasey moved away as soon as he could). His only contact with Kasey is leaving him voicemail messages that Kasey never returns. It’s a turning point in Kasey’s personal development when he decides that he’s finally ready to talk directly to his brother to begin to repair their relationship and I really wish that the story had been able to explore that more.
The Sex: Here be kink, folks. Just to be clear: no one in this story has, or is interested in having, sex with cars. Kasey is aroused by being in certain cars because it reminds him of his teenage masturbatory shenanigans. He shares this with Brandon, which gives Brandon ideas. The first sex scene is a solo one where Kasey jerks off in the first car Brandon leaves at the garage (with Brandon’s explicit permission). The second one is also solo-ish. Brandon leaves another car at the garage, but also leaves an iPad so he can Facetime with Kasey while Kasey goes at it. That one’s pretty good, also a more modern version of phone sex (though I had a hard time trying to visualize the position Kasey ended up contorting himself into). Both those scenes take place in the garage, which was a bit distracting because I was constantly worried about them getting caught (I remember the first part). The final scene takes place in Brandon’s collection room garage thing. There they actually have sex in one of the cars. That last scene is probably the longest, and happens on the men’s first date and seems to cement things for Kasey in regards to where their relationship may be headed. It also confirms to him that his fetish, while unusual, isn’t something he needs to be ashamed of.
The Writing: I don’t really have any complaints about the writing. It’s good writing. I didn’t enjoy this part as much as the first part, but that was mostly due to plot reasons and me not really connecting much with the characters. I do wish this could’ve been longer because it might have given the chance to fully flesh out Kasey’s story arc about learning to accept himself and letting people in, which I would’ve really liked to see.
[Normal Enough was published August 3, 2016, by Dreamspinner Press, it is only available as an ebook]