Teddy has worked on the Lawson ranch and sheep farm going on four years now, since the age of sixteen. Roy is the ranch foreman and quite a despicable man who abuses Teddy. For all of his twenty years on this earth, Teddy hasn’t had an easy life and doesn’t ask for much. Teddy feels that all things considered, his life could have been worse and at least he has a job and isn’t alone. One stormy night, Roy sends Teddy to the airport to pick-up the new ranch hand – Marco Belini. Marco becomes Teddy’s bunk-mate, and in getting to know him, Teddy finds a kindred spirit when it comes to gentling horses. In Marco, he also finds a friend and eventually a lover.
Which Way To Dominance by Gavin Atlas reads like an adult fairy tale – a Cinderfella story. Teddy is a gentle soul that doesn’t believe he can overcome his circumstances and so he accepts his lot in life. Roy is an abusive, miserable and vile man who exploits and violates Teddy at every turn, until Marco arrives at the ranch and essentially rescues Teddy.
This short story opens a door to the underbelly of a seemingly Dom/sub relationship. In it we get a glimpse of what can happen when the relationship is not mutually consensual even with Teddy’s submissive inclinations and when the Dom is not really a Dom but rather a sadistic abuser that has absolutely no interest in ensuring the welfare and well-being of his ward.
Despite its fairytalesque quality and the role of Marco’s Prince Charming to Teddy’s Cinderfella, Gavin Atlas is not afraid to tackle the issue of abuse even within the realm of gay erotica. In this regard he does not pull any punches in this story. His stark narrative of the abuse that Roy heaps on Teddy had me cringing and took me outside of my comfort zone. But I consider my reaction a good thing because it’s indicative of the fact that the telling of Teddy’s predicament is well written with no pretense, or a need to romanticise the serious issue of abuse, even with the story’s happily-ever-after ending.
We learn few details about Teddy’s character in this short story, but we do get a sense that his life before arriving at the ranch must not have been an easy one, and the little we do learn spoke volumes to me. I attribute this exclusively to the author’s innate talent to convey much in his stories through subtleties and nuances and without the need for many words – an ability I’ve previously remarked upon in his other works. Still, Teddy’s character continued to fascinate me long after I finished reading the story. I found myself wondering about Teddy’s back-story, about how he got to this place in life and what happened to him along the way.
Despite its difficult subject matter I enjoyed Which Way To Dominance because it made me think about the story, its characters and my reaction to them. The only draw back is that the story itself was too short and didn’t allow room to further explore and develop the main character.