Windfall: A Review
Ellis Odell Wayland
M/M, Gay, Bisexual
Summary: Classical linguist Joseph “Grimm” Jaeger may be neither well-known nor well-liked among his peers at his university, but he does have his own office. That’s a cold comfort, sometimes, between his crushing workload and his tyrannical boss, but Grimm has a long of history of making do with what he has. He’s just not always so good at holding onto it.
When his boss springs a brand new project and an absolutely unwelcome officemate on him, Grimm finds himself hard-pressed to adapt. The project is as nebulous as it is pointless, and his new officemate and rival researcher, Key Haddock, proves to be a bit much for even the world-weary Grimm to handle. Key serves up equal portions of soothing tea and scathing commentary on a daily basis, and the two have endless opportunities to get under each others’ skin—or at least under Grimm’s. Key remains unfazed, no matter how often Grimm attempts to rile him back, until their joint project takes a turn for the worst, and an unexpected encounter outside of work forces the two to spend a weekend—and then more—together.
This book came into my life at a time when I both needed, and desperately wanted, something like it. It’s more than I could have ever hoped for.
The dialogue, setting, and plot are excellently written. The world, from the settings to the situations of the characters, was fleshed-out and intense, adding a great deal to the plot and reading experience.
The references to post-graduate academia, and the characters’ areas of expertise in general, are conversational but solid. They not only held up, but also kept me fascinated, interested in exploring them further myself. The book has one solid foot in academia, across a number of disciplines, without being dry for a single moment. (I can’t speak for the realism of the medical elements of the story, which make up a great deal of the plot, but that, too, was enough to convince me.)
The dialogue was well-paced and snappy, with intense glances into characters’ heads that zoomed out into skips of days or months, relatively seamlessly. The pacing may seem a little bit strange at first, but by around halfway through the story, the author’s intention becomes clear.
One of the things that really surprised me about this story was the number of plot twists. They started fairly early, and just kept coming, over and over. Just when I thought it was too late in the story to possibly add a new complication, a new element of backstory that hadn’t been addressed would appear. Instead of stories being simplified to skip the uninteresting, some of what was glossed over ended up being crucial later.
I’m not usually accustomed to slice-of-life-style, literary fiction stories, but if that’s a convention of the genre, this one used it in a remarkably exciting and fulfilling way. It had me analyzing the story more and more closely as I read on, looking for what I had missed.
However, even with all the good points outlined above, the characters are the strongest element of Windfall, bar none. Grimm and Key act in many ways as foils for each other, but nevertheless both intensely relatable. Their interplay, whether humorous, frustrating, or sexy (or, often, all three at once), forms the core of the novel.
Grimm has lived as a variety of people in succession, continually reinventing himself and leaving parts of himself behind; Key, on the other hand, keeps a long, carefully curated list of issues and grievances, most of which he hides from other people. Grimm has a hard time reading people, and doesn’t make many assumptions about them; Key makes too many assumptions, even if many of them are spot-on. Their flaws, traumas, and assumptions make up the primary conflict of the novel, which is ultimately a will-they-or-won’t-they gone terribly wrong.
Key’s and Grimm’s understanding of each other and the other person’s circumstances are sometimes right; other times, they completely miss vital elements, both obscure and obvious. And sometimes, they overthink and misinterpret in a way that’s both completely sympathetic and agonizing to watch.
Watching Grimm second-guess himself again and again, and struggle to be a good person, is heartbreaking; learning about Key’s venom, and especially how inward-directed it is even as comes coursing out to hit people in the splash zone, is worse.
Both characters’ distance from the queer community—their issues and experiences, or lack of experiences, with it—form the base for some of the core conflicts of the narrative. For me, that both ached and struck very close to home. The queer community, diverse and marvelous and genuinely life-saving as it is, has a lot of margins that people can lose themselves in.
No one queer person can know everything about The Queer Experience, because there is no singular experience. We fuck up and misunderstand and hurt each other—especially across intersections—and it’s both personal and systemic.This is especially true because of all the internalized issues that society feeds us all about queerness—we often end up isolating ourselves, consciously or subconsciously.
Watching Key and Grimm start to work through that, to acknowledge their biases and their traumas and reach out to each other, working to do better…it was seriously inspiring to me.
This book, for me at least, is an example of why #ownvoices stuff is so important. The sort of complexity and messy, painful issues addressed in Windfall—from horizontal aggressions and internalized hatred, to somewhat fraught terminology—would be very difficult for someone not deeply invested in the queer community to handle sensitively.
Reading this book really got me kick-started on thinking about my own issues, with myself and with other people. At the end of this book, I felt like I’d learned a great deal—and not just about the characters, or the classics, but about me. Things that I want, things that I have hang-ups on, the way that I think and what effects that may have on my relationships…watching Grimm and Key start to work on themselves, I started to see myself in a new light. I found ways to move forward.
I would recommend caution to readers who respond poorly to queer slurs, homophobia/biphobia/transphobia, descriptions of abuse, mentions of self-harm, or fraught negotiations of consent. (There is no rape in this book, but worries about it run as an undercurrent throughout the story.)
For everyone else, however, I highly recommend this book, especially anyone who has enjoyed m/m in the past. I’ve already recommended it to several of my friends. Between the loose plot threads and where the story ends, I am incredibly excited for the sequel.