The Return by Brad Boney
A friend of mine recently suggested that I read Brad Boney's two books: The Nothingness of Ben and The Return. I will admit that I listened to them on audiobook. I drive back and forth to work each day forty minutes both ways, so audiobooks are an easy way for me to consume new books, without me staying up all night long reading as I often do with books. While The Nothingness of Ben is a wonderful book and a true joy to read (and by the way must be read before The Return), The Return is an absolute masterpiece of gay fiction. It is a symphony of words and one of the most masterful pieces of literature that I have read in years.
Here's a quick description of The Return:
Music. Topher Manning rarely thinks about anything else, but his day job as a mechanic doesn't exactly mesh with his rock star ambitions. Unless he can find a way to unlock all the songs in his head, his band will soon be on the fast track to obscurity.
Then the South by Southwest music festival and a broken-down car drop New York critic Stanton Porter into his life. Stanton offers Topher a ticket to the Bruce Springsteen concert, where a hesitant kiss and phantom vibrations from Topher’s cell phone kick off a love story that promises to transcend ordinary possibility.
There is a lot of music associated with The Return, and it only seems fitting that I review it using symphonic allegory, at least that's what I calling it. A classic symphony is in four parts: 1) an opening sonata or allegro, 2) a slow movement, such as adagio, 3) a minuet or scherzo with trio and 4) an allegro, rondo, or sonata. The book loosely follows this pattern. It begins with the opening sonata or allegro which is fast, quickly, and bright. There is a whirlwind of things happening in the beginning, but once you start you are hooked and can't stop. Then there is a slow movement, adagio, which is slow and stately. I will admit it slows down and you think this book will be quite predictable. I thought I knew where it was going and what would happen, yet I couldn't have been more wrong. The scherzo can frequently be referred to a fast-moving humorous composition which may or may not be part of a larger work. In the case of The Return, this come approximately in the middle of the book and holds the novel together. It's fast. It grabs your attention and the tears begin to flow. It's all about a tying together of events, and Brad Boney is a master of this. The third quarter of the book has a rising crescendo that grasps you emotionally. Every emotion is tugged at and your heart swells and sinks as the book progresses. Once the book reaches it's climax and you know how things will end, or at least you think you know, you must continue even though you know the emotional roller coaster is no where near its end. The last couple of chapter, the last quarter of the book, is the second climax that brings things together that you would have never guessed. When you think the book becomes predictable, hold on to your seat. Many classical rondos feature music of a popular or folk character. In the fourth movement of The Return, the central character of most serious gay fiction since the 1980s is also a major character. If you don't understand, I'm speaking of the AIDS epidemic. As I said though, this is an emotional roller coaster and one that you will not want to get off of.
In the literary history of gay fiction, you have books such as E.M. Forster's Maurice in which the main character find tragedy and sadness as a punishment for his homosexuality. The same is the case with the heart wrenching Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin. Gay authors were not allowed to publish books with a happy ending. Then came the liberation of gay fiction in the 1970s and happiness could be seen in gay fiction for the first time. But once the AIDS epidemic begins, gay literature takes on a mourning period. There are no more happy endings, only lessons of loss. By the 2000s, there was a return of more cheerful books of gay fiction, romance and mystery. These books were whimsical and fun, but publishers have since largely closed their gay imprints and ebooks and independent publishers have replaced the gay imprints. And finally, those who love gay fiction can find a large supply of books to read. Some of the authors, such as Brad Boney, Amy Lane, Xavier Mayne, LB Greg, JB Sanders, and KC Burn are creating beautiful and emotional love stories, some are even still whimsical such as JB Sanders. Not all of this proliferation of gay literature is readable or even mildly entertaining, but just as with the authors I just mentioned, there are numerous gems to be found.
I mentioned at the beginning that I listened to this book. It was read by the actor Charlie David, who,read both The Nothingness of Ben and The Return. I will admit, that Charlie David is a good reader, but some of this southern pronunciations of names and especially places is off in The Nothingness of Ben. But with The Return, David had found his ability to capture the voices and settings. He adds the emotions and conveys them like no other narrator I have ever heard. There is one scene when Topher is on the plane coming back from NYC and he calls his band mate Peter and cries. Charlie David's voice breaks, and I cried with Topher. I can't imagine anyone reading a book with the emotions and savvy of Charlie David. He was perfection in his reading of The Return.
The Return does transcend ordinary possibility and borders on fantasy or science fiction, but it's a beautiful story and the end will blow you away. You just read this book, and along the way, listen to some of the songs mentioned. It will truly bring the book alive, especially if you aren't listening to Charlie David read it.