Michael Hartwig’s A COLLISION IN QUEBEC is the rare example of a romance novel that both satisfies and defies the genre’s rules and expectations. The story opens on the road between Montreal and Quebec City, where a massive blizzard leads to a car accident, ultimately derailing Brian’s plans to attend the famous Winter Carnival. Thankfully, the owner of a local garage—a devout Muslim named Hakim—offers to give Brian a ride, but the two soon become stranded at Brian’s downtown apartment. When Hakim’s nephew (Omar) arrives a few days later, sparks fly, and the two soon become trapped in each other’s orbit. While the attraction is undeniable, a potential romance is not without complication. From the typical reasons (such as trust issues) to the anything but (like an unnerving run-in with undercover agents), the odds are stacked against the young couple.
While the classification certainly fits, to cite A COLLISION IN QUEBEC as an example ‘gay romance’ ultimately feels reductive. Yes, Hartwig succeeds at crafting a pair of nuanced protagonists, and yes, he clearly has mastered the art of translating sexual tension into words, but this novel is so much more than a torrid, jet-setting affair. For instance, the ‘conflict’ driving much of the first act is as thoughtful an exploration of clashing cultures as one will find. The differences between Brian’s secular views and Omar’s conservative Islamic upbringing are both real and pronounced. Each world is fully rendered, but the care Hartwig takes to avoid casting a sense of bias toward either is refreshing—something that is especially noticed when the Islamic take on homosexuality is discussed early on. Equally impressive is the way Hartwig authentically renders each setting. From Boston to Morocco to Quebec City, every stop on Brian and Omars’ journey is clearly defined and exudes atmosphere throughout.
Of course, all of the above is made possible by Hartwig’s skillful writing. From cover to cover, the author’s refined prose radiates with confidence. By opting to deliver exposition in concise, focused bursts and keeping plot contrivances to the bare minimum, the Boston-based author manages to fit a novel-sized narrative into a tight, two-hundred-ish page package. Obviously, there’s an established audience for A COLLISION IN QUEBEC, and the novel’s fast-paced, erotically-tinged romance will undoubtedly satisfy even the choosiest fans of LGBTQ fiction. Still, Hartwig’s thoughtful take on the subtle cultural differences that so often accompany modern relationships truly elevates this work to another level. In fact, A COLLISION IN QUEBEC’s greatest asset just might be its substantial crossover potential.
Fans of LGBTQ fiction will likely relish every last moment of Michael Hartwig’s A COLLISION IN QUEBEC, but the story’s themes of cultural identity and self-discovery will resonate with readers from all walks of life.
~James Weiskittel for IndieReader