Amusing title puns aside, Beef is a book that tries to do too many things at once, and ends up failing at all of them.
At first, the protagonist, Evan, tells us his story using the “Dear Diary” style. These “entries” have about as my dynamism as sawdust, and read pretty much like the spreadsheets they describe. The author quickly abandons this style, however, and returns to a standard first-person approach. Unfortunately, things are still pretty boring. If I may borrow a line from The Brightest Witch of Her Age, Hermione Granger, the protagonist has the emotional range of a teaspoon, which makes reading about his relationships (if you can even call them that) a complete slog. Evan also has a weird, creepy obsession with how much everyone works out, and how much money they earn. This means that every person he meets or introduces to the reader gets broken down in terms of muscle size, clothing brands, and what type of cars they drive. Human beings are more than the sum of their parts, dude.
Evan actually has a tendency for incredibly disturbing ways of describing things. For instance, one of the few female characters in the book is described to us as having “breasts like two scoops of jiggling ice cream which I no longer ate”, which, uh, no. Meanwhile, the main love interest of the book is described to us almost muscle-by-muscle whenever Evan sees him. When he enters a coffee shop a bit later, Evan tells us what great “buns” he has. This makes Evan sound like he’s about fourteen. The scene gets even creepier when Evan starts calling his arousal for this other man his “inner Bonobo”, referencing a book on Bonobo mating rituals he had just picked up at the store. This metaphor continues throughout the book and has to be one of the most bizarre and uncomfortable descriptors I have yet read.
When Evan isn’t busy describing things badly, he’s busy hating himself. He hates his “wine stain” of a birthmark. He hates how much sex he’s not having. He hates how his co-workers get him talking about “personal” stuff. He hates that he wants to have sex. He hates that he’s boring. He hates that he’s rich. He hates that he’s not as buff as he could be. On and on it goes. It gets stale very fast, because we’re never given much of a character for Evan beyond his “Flaws”. I use a capital F here because it is very clear the author is trying to define Evan using these Flaws, ticking them like boxes on a checklist instead of trying to make Evan into a human being. Boring.
This book also has an incredibly weird relationship with sex. (I know I keep using the word “weird” a lot, but trust me, it’s applicable) For one thing, Evan is clearly desperate to have sex again after a long time being single, but he makes no effort to actually change this. Later on when he finds himself strongly attracted to the book’s love interest, Dillon, he apparently loses the ability to be a fucking adult and ask Dillon out, instead content to just sit around with raging boners all the time wondering what the hell he should do. When he’s not around Dillon he still has his boner, but he’s ashamed of it, so he tries to exercise it away. When that doesn’t work, he eventually pleasures himself, but it’s done with heavily implied tones of yet MORE shame, which had me yelling at my Kindle because goddamnit, just masturbate already so you can call this guy up and ask him out to dinner.
There is also sexual imagery everywhere in the book, which only adds to the tension of both Evan and the reader. I’d like to say this tension was pleasant, but unfortunately most of it appears in the form of the “funny” billboards Evan and Dillon keep seeing around town. By “funny” I mean “misogynistic trash”, because most of them are thinly-veiled “put your dick in her” types of jokes. Some of them are downright disturbing and even imply a lack of sexual consent. (This book has some serious issues with women, if you couldn’t tell already.) As a bonus, the billboards seem to be very plot-important at first, but like everything else in this book, they abruptly stop after awhile, reappearing only at the very end.
As if all this other weird sex crap wasn’t bad enough, the author then does something which had me literally shouting at my Kindle with rage: When Evan and Dillon finally start their relationship and reach the point where they’re ready for their first night together…the author cuts to black. Mind you, we are over halfway through the book by the time this happens. We have had chapter after chapter of building sexual frustration and tension. And the author fucking cuts. to. black. No sex. Just a quick “it was good!” and that’s it. What’s even stranger about this, though, is that there had already been graphic descriptions of sex before now. And there are even more of them after this scene!!!! Why the hell would you cut away in one spot where the reader needed an emotional payoff, then give us explicit sex scenes later when it’s less important? I DON’T UNDERSTAND YOU, BOOK.
(btw, there’s a ton of stuff I left out of my sex rant here, up to and including describing a “platonic” relationship as two guys furiously fucking each other in a tent. Yeeeah.)
Finally, we get to the biggest disappointment of this book: The plot. At first, the plot seems to be watching Evan move past his issues and grow as a human being. When it becomes clear that isn’t going to happen, the plot starts trying on new themes as if it were shopping for pants in a department store. First, we have a “financial shenanigans” plot, which goes on hiatus once Evan starts having boners all the time. Then there’s a plot with the billboards, which also disappears. Then briefly there seems to be a very strong suggestion that someone’s possibly been murdered, but that one only lasted through one chapter. (Still unsure if anyone was actually murdered.) Then there’s a strange revenge-of-the-ex plot, and of course the classic “new love interest isn’t sure they can trust me” plot. By this time, even Evan isn’t sure if he isn’t somehow involved in something nefarious, because everyone else seems to be. Eventually we wind back around to the “financial shenanigans” plot, get everyone back together, and then one of the minor characters is diagnosed with cancer. Feeling confused? Well trust me, you’re not alone.
I seriously cannot recommend anything in this book. It did have its sweet moments and was even funny on occasion…but overall it is a tangled mess of self-hatred, half-baked ideas and really creepy ideas about sex. I am so glad I got it for free and didn’t lose any money on it at all. Give it a pass.