Amazon Link: What Binds Us
Author: Larry Benjamin
Publisher: Carina Press
Length: Novel

Rating: 5

Thomas-Edward and Dondi first meet as roommates when they begin college in 1977.  Thomas is encountering the world for the first time outside the loving but somewhat smothering embrace of his family.  And he meets Dondi who is in many ways larger than life – gorgeous, sophisticated, dramatic, and wonderful.  Dondi is wealthy beyond imagining and lives in a totally different world.  Yet the two men become close friends, and over the course of the year, lovers as well.

Thomas loves Dondi fiercely, but when the men return to school after summer vacation, Dondi ends their relationship.  Although he loves Thomas, Dondi knows he can never give Thomas the commitment that he deserves.  Yet the two remain the best of friends and when summer comes again, Thomas joins Dondi at his family’s magnificent summer home on Long Island.

It is there that Thomas meets Dondi’s brother Matthew.  They are drawn to each other instantly, becoming incredibly close and spending nearly all their time together, especially as Dondi continues his restless wandering and constant whoring.  Matthew and Thomas become inseparable, each falling in love with the other but not realizing he is loved in return.  When they finally find each other, their love is intense and wonderful.  They are so sweet and lovely together, and it is clear that each has met the person for whom they are truly meant.  At first Dondi is angry, threatened by their relationship, especially since his feelings for Thomas never really died.  But he grows to not only accept, but to fully support the couple when he sees how right they are for one another.

The story follows the three men and their intertwining lives for over a decade.  Thomas and Matthew’s relationship blossoms and they are deeply and beautifully in love.  They move towards domesticity while Dondi continues his life of activity and ever changing men.  And yet Dondi is always an integral part of their lives, the three men so close and all loving one another.  Their story continues through the happy times, and ultimately through the very sad ones, but the bonds of love between them remain strong, holding them together.

Oh, you guys, this story was so good.  Beautiful, emotional, and so lovely.  Benjamin writes so beautifully and the story is moving and engaging.  I honestly could not put it down and read the entire book in a day.  Although it is a nice length novel, the pacing of the story is so quick and lively, moving things along in a way that follows the men through the years without ever feeling slow.  It is so lushly romantic and sweet as we see the world through Thomas’ eyes.  So much of the book revolves around the Whyte family and their world, and he gives us that outside perspective to see them from a distance, while also being such an integral part of their lives.

Benjamin does an amazing job of making the story feel so rooted in the time period.  The book takes place in the 70s and 80s and the signs of that era are rooted in everything from the music they listen to, to the way they dress, to where they shop. The book also integrates social and political issues, and the transition from the more free 70s to the harsher realities of the 80s can be felt throughout the book.  It is done really wonderfully and enhances the story so nicely.

One of the things I loved about the book is the way it plays with the themes of the sun, the moon, and the earth.  Each interconnected, revolving around one another, never being able to exist fully separately.  Dondi is the sun, burning brightly, gathering all the attention.  He is the heat that others are so attracted to, yet all that energy becomes hard to sustain and if you get too close you are sure to burn.  And Thomas sees Matthew as the moon, luminous and glowing and steady. To many the moon is a reflection of the sun, yet to Thomas, Matthew is the center of the world. And Thomas is the earth, more grounded and solid.  Each of the three men is caught up in orbit together, each with their different roles and strengths.  This idea is introduced in the very start of the book, and Benjamin does a great job of carrying this theme throughout.

Just to be clear (because I think the book blurb is a bit vague), this is not a menage story in any way.  Thomas’ sexual relationship with Dondi is over before he falls in love with Matthew.  And once Matthew and Thomas meet, neither one will ever have eyes for anyone else.  Although the three men are incredibly close and emotionally bonded, the true romantic relationship takes place between Thomas and Matthew alone.

So I really loved this story. It felt so sweeping and epic, lush and romantic, and I was totally caught up in the drama of it all.  Despite the often poignant story, it never felt weighed down and heavy, and things move along with enough speed to keep it lively even through the more serious parts.  This book was such a wonderful surprise and I am so glad I took a chance on it.   I really loved this What Binds Us and would highly recommend it.

Cover Review: So gorgeous and totally evokes the feeling of the book.  I wish Thomas had been shown with darker skin to be more fitting his description in the story.  But really, so lovely and just a bit haunting.

P.S. Although the contest is over, if you want to hear more from Larry about the book and the influence of music on him and the story, be sure to check out his recent guest post.