Once in a Lifetime
Offered a yearlong medical research fellowship in France, Shane Johnson has many hopes for the experience: a chance to improve his French, an opportunity to hone his research skills before starting his PhD at Baylor, and the freedom to live life as an openly gay man for the first time. He’ll chronicle his year abroad with its challenges, victories, and setbacks as he struggles to balance his faith with his sexuality.
As he navigates the shoals of a first kiss, a first relationship, and perhaps even lasting love, Shane will have to balance his newfound emotions with his long-term plans, and he’ll face the decision of how his once-in-a-lifetime experience will fit into the life he wants to lead.
I started reading gay romance (and gay erotic romance) about a year ago. It’s been less than 12 months, but I’ve read dozens of books already. Once in a Lifetime, by Ariel Tachna, is easily one of the best.
Tachna creates a very likeable character in Shane. This book is told through Shane’s journal entries as he embarks on a year-long workstay in France. He uses the opportunity to attempt to live into who he is — a gay man. More accurately, a Christian gay man.
Tachna did a superb job in integrating the question of faith in Shane’s personal journey. Personally belonging to a denomination that believes in the full equality of GLBT persons, I found the author’s approach here extremely refreshing. Too often, faith is used as a negative plot device — someone, whether it be the main character or not, has to overcome the conflict between faith and sexuality. The truth as I see it, and apparently as Tachna and her character Shane see it, is that there is no conflict there. Sexuality does not contradict faith.
Shane goes through a number of experiences that, I believe, are common in the experience of young gay men. She handles it with care and compassion, never giving into the tropes of the genre, cliches and stereotypes, or the easy way out of situations. Shane lays everything out openly and honestly and we grow with him. We experience what he experiences. We see when he is heading down the wrong path, but we know that he will see it eventually — and more, he will learn from it. Tachna does an excellent job of balancing Shane’s experiences with his personality. He’s led down the wrong path innocently enough, he learns from his mistakes, and he applies those lessons to the future.
In the end, Shane encounters a real love, true and deep. His learning curve in the relationship, and his unfolding experience with sex, is wonderfully handled and a pleasure to read. Tachna avoids the many tropes and cliches I’ve found common in many romance books and instead writes something real.
This truly is a wonderful read — it’s one of the best gay romance books I’ve come across.