Initial reaction: Whoa, I'm impressed. Came across this by chance and it's honestly one of the strongest novellas in its genre that I've ever read. Al's narrative voice is incredibly charming.
It's criminal just how long it's taken for me to write a review on this, but I recently picked up the book again in 2014 and re-read it. I think I loved it more now than I did back when I first read it. Al's probably one of my favorite characters/narrators. The voice he takes on is just so alluring and draws you right into the narrative. Think of a great big hulking guy that people seem to think he'll fight at the drop of a hat, but really has a heart of gold. He's not too bright, and he meets Larry one drunken night and helps the poor guy back home (though Larry is somewhat terrified of Al at first). The two meet the next day and get on very well. You meet Al's family, follow the characters both through some misunderstandings that are funny and some situations that are harrowing. Al's eye for details and the way he carries the narrative make you care about the characters and the situations they encounter in an intimate way. And not just in the intimate scenes.
I'm definitely looking forward to reading more from J.L. Merrow in the future.
Overall score: 4.5/5 stars