The Truth About Goodbye by Russell Ricard – Review

I want to get one thing straight right off the bat. I did end up enjoying The Truth About Goodbye in the end, but it might have been a case of too little, too late, for me. So I’m going to do what they say you should do in presentations and make a sandwich of my feelings about this novel.

We’re going to talk about some good, some bad, and then some good again.

From the time I read the description, I was hooked on the idea. There are novels that deal with grief, but I don’t often get to read about the loss of a spouse from the view of a queer character. That in itself was enough to have me being gung-ho about reading and reviewing this.

Ricard writes queer men well (as one would expect) with neither of the protagonists feeling like a caricature and while an antagonist feels a bit like a two-dimensional cut out… I was willing to forgive the novel that. Particularly since there are chances for people to grow despite the short length of the book.

Grief, as well, is touched upon in ways that felt both engaging and very true to life. The irrationality of the way that Sebastian thinks, the way that he is getting bogged down by his inner life even if he outwardly seems fine is a way that many people grieve.

But at the beginning, every character drove me up the wall. Everyone felt like they were mean spirited. It was like there were a bunch of Chandlers in the room, but without the laugh track so it just came across as mean. Chloe (Sebastian’s best friend) was a thorn in my side when I first started reading. She had this habit of looking up and talking to her mother before looking down at the ground to talk to her father.

I get the symbolism, but even once was too much and it really threw me out of the book. Chloe does that multiple times and at first she comes across like a kind of Samantha from Sex and the City, but a cardboard cutout of her.

The references to 2008 date the novel really quickly. I’m not sure why it was set in 2008, was that when this was published? It’s almost a decade ago and talking about the 2008 election pulled me out of the story. 2008 feels like it was centuries ago and I almost feel like it would be better if it wasn’t mentioned.

There are also too many plots in The Truth About Goodbye. Let’s count them off:

  1. Sebastian is getting too old for his job(s).
  2. Sebastian wants to follow his passion.
  3. Chloe has drama with the men in her lives.
  4. Sebastian is mourning his husband and feels guilty about his death.
  5. Sebastian is meeting a new guy.
  6. Said new guy has emotional baggage of his own.
  7. There’s a rivalry between Sebastian and another dancer.
  8. There’s past horribleness with families.
  9. There’s a strange therapy plot line.

Already, that’s too many plots. The novel would need to be a thousand pages to fit that all in.

I think the reason I’m being so hard on The Truth About Goodbye is because I was rooting for it. I wanted it to be good so badly and the thing is that when it gives up on the artifice and focuses on the characters, it shines.

About 25% of the way through the book, I started to click with the characters and I realized that it was the attempts at humour that had me feeling like I was reading a cheap knock-off. When there’s heart, the book shines. The passages about the grief felt genuine and heart-wrenching and I would get engrossed in the novel just to get knocked out of it again.

I feel like there is a good novel in The Truth About Goodbye somewhere. There might even be a novel that I would evangelize about in here, but it’s trapped under romantic conventions and snarky sitcom moments that I just can’t get past.

If the author writes another novel, I’m 100% on board to try again. I can’t remember when I’ve read an author with so much potential that could have made everything better by making one small change. Less humour, more heart.

If you like lighthearted romances that go dark, this could be a good read for you. It just wasn’t the one for me.

A lot of potential, but for me it fell flat.

The Truth About Goodbye

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