Updated: Feb 13
This volume of British gay erotica is a minor masterpiece.
Everything at first points to a simple one-handed read: the generic title, the "porn category" concept (college boy moves in with hot straight roommate), the half-naked guys on the cover.
It starts predictably enough. Tom is a virgin, it's his first day at university and he's nervous about who he gets to share a dorm room with. In quick succession, he meets three other boys - the nerd, the emo kid and the straight jock - and by the end of the book (spoiler!), Tom is no longer a virgin.
Straight Boy Roommate, however, is much more than what it advertises.
The first stroke of genius is to condense action that might logically have spanned a term or a year into 48 breathless hours. (More semen gets spilled in this timeframe than seems physiologically possible, but we'll call that magic realism.) This conceit propels the action forward with infectious kinetic energy. No character stays put for very long, and there's no time for doubts or rumination: action precipitates action. That choreography of perpertual movement and insatiable lust is an inspired and accurate portrayal of youth, capturing the restless mind and jittery body of late adolescence, the relentless obsession with accruing sexual experience, the giddy thrill of being suddenly freed from school and family.
This wouldn't work without excellent writing. With an economy of style, Troughton writes short, fluid sentences. Deceptively simple descriptions situate the action (and body parts) with impeccable clarity. The dialogue consistently rings true, alive with an authentic sense of place, class and character - it's also sometimes incredibly funny. The thin plot, an escalation of cover-to-cover sex talk and sex acts, belies a clever narrative construction, in which accelerated character arcs turn archetypes into three-dimensional beings whose acquaintance, by the end, the reader is thrilled to have made.
Without calling attention to what he is doing, Troughton bestows an invaluable gift to the reader - especially if the reader is a gay man - in the character of Dan.
Dan is the big straight rugby player, uncomplicated, maybe even a little dumb, extraverted and always up for a laugh. We all know him. He's the jock of countless movies, novels and real-life experiences. If you're a gay youth and you've not come out, Dan is the portrait of unattainability: the guy whose body you secretly lust after, whose social ease and popularity you envy. He's also the guy, traditionally, who might beat you up.
Troughton rewrites this archetype into a kind giant who just might turn out to be an unlikely ally. If Dan can relate to Tom's queer thirst, it's because he too is led by his dick and he knows resistance is futile. The expansion of his horizons is driven by horniness, not moral or philosophical epiphanies.
And yet by grudgingly giving Tom the permission to be himself - including sexually - Dan lifts a gigantic weight off many gay readers' minds. This generous gift is akin to the liberating monologue delivered by Elio's father in Call Me By Your Name, that explicit permission to desire and to love another man, granted to so few of us growing up.
Straight Boy Roommate will turn you on, big time. If you let it, it might also very well win you over.