“A Shot in the Dark” is my first exposure to Victoria Lee and all I can say is wow, does she have range, when I learned she writes contemporary romance with deeper themes as well as SFF. This incredible book is definitely one of my top favorites of the year. The prose is breathtakingly gorgeous, and I can tell this is one of those “books of the heart” that people are always talking about that has a very personal, authentic feel for the author’s own life.
The book centers around a forbidden romance between a hotshot photography professor, a trans guy named Wyatt Cole, and a young photography student spending the summer at a renowned art school in New York City. The story is filled with all kinds of tension and Wyatt’s ethical quandaries about boundaries after they spend a one night stand together on Ely Cohen’s first night back in the city and then have to work together.
The tension is so dripping with angst that it almost got to be too much for my personal preference for angst, half the time I just wanted to slap them both and say kiss each other already. But if you like high angst this will be your cup of tea.
If it was just that, this would have been a shallow, tropey book like every other romance on the market, just make it queer, but this was so far from that.
Ely and Wyatt are both addicts in recovery, one of the authentic details that really shines through as if the author has sat in NA meetings herself, clutching paper cups of coffee. Her photography semester is also a homecoming for her; she was raised in an Orthodox Jewish sect and excommunicated after her drug problems caused her family too much pain. Back in town, she struggles to maintain her sobriety and get vulnerable with her art, and finds a kindred spirit in Wyatt, who has his own struggles with family and artistic identity.
I loved how the explorations of identity are subtle in this. Ely’s pansexual but when she describes her sexuality to her new roommates, she doesn’t want to put a label on it; instead she says simply that she’s slept with both men and women, it’s about the person, not the gender. Likewise, I felt the journey she went on to reconnect with her religious identity was not stereotypical; she goes from appreciating the way that rituals bind the life of a family and a community, to realizing that she never stopped believing and needs that anchor and structure in her life even if her family might not ever completely forgive her.
All in all, wow, this book is amazing. I feel privileged to have earned an early look.
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for an advance review copy. I am leaving this review voluntarily.