Rating: 5 stars
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With each novel, author Brad Boney solidifies himself as an excellent writer with a knack for making the “gay for you” theme both fresh and innovative. The Return is so much more than a story dealing with the idea of reincarnation and past lives, it is a tender and sweet love story that proves you must learn to trust before you can love again.
Music critic, Stanton Porter, is in Austin, Texas for the annual music festival when his loaner car breaks down. In order to retrieve his concert tickets to see Bruce Springsteen, he walks to the nearest garage looking for help and meets Topher Manning, a mechanic by day and lead singer/songwriter of a four man local band by night. As circumstances unfold, Stanton is able to offer a spare ticket to Topher and the two attend the concert together. In a moment that can only be called surreal, the formerly straight Topher turns and kisses Stanton at the close of the concert.
What follows is an unfolding of a series of uncanny similarities between Topher’s life and that of a former deceased lover of Stanton’s whom he met in college. Hutch and Stanton met on Fire Island in the hay day of sex without condoms, right before AIDS made its deathly appearance in the U.S. They fell in love and as time progressed they moved in together. But Hutch had to finally give up his dream of being a successful musician and slowly both men began to change, causing their relationship to become strained. Added to this, they watched in fear and despair as each of their original group of friends contracted and died from the AIDS virus. Twenty plus years later, Stanton still carries both guilt and unresolved anger at Hutch, and meeting Topher, who is so similar in both voice and mannerism to his dead lover, makes Stanton feel overwhelmed, to say the least.
As time unfolds, Stanton realizes that Topher may indeed be the link to finally having an opportunity to lay to rest all the hurt and trauma associated with Hutch’s death. However, Stanton cannot seem to believe that Topher will ever be able to maintain any type of long-term relationship given that there is more than two decades separating their ages.
With each successive coincidence, it becomes clearer that it is not Topher or his sudden thrust into fame and his band’s meteoric rise that has Stanton retreating. Instead, it is that each time Topher opens his mouth, the voice Stanton hears is Hutch’s and it vividly reminds him of the love he lost—the love that was not always faithful, the love that left him wounded and distrustful of ever being that close to another man again.
This synopsis does not begin to do this story justice. I cannot express to you how this multi-layered story unfolded in such believable detail. Yes, we are talking about a story that has certain “paranormal” elements—speaking with the dead is one of them. However, I never felt like this story left reality. In fact, the relationship that grows between these two men is not only beautifully written it is anchored in the realm of possibility. Boney alternates between the present and the past, unfolding the back story of Stanton and Hutch’s life together as he writes the story of Stanton and Topher’s developing relationship. It was a clever way to give us both insight into Stanton’s past and how it influenced the man he had become when he meets Topher.
Topher was both self assured and yet challenged with moments of real doubt, starting with the fact that he never thought he would be falling in love with a man. I love that Boney pulls in a few characters from his previous novel, The Nothingness of Ben, and allows them to be both confidants and mentors to the newly “gay” Topher. Some of the most humorous scenes in the novel are Topher’s interactions with Travis, who fans will recall also became “gay for you” and is now essentially married to Ben. These friends advise Topher to go all out in making sure Stanton doesn’t get away, reminding him to live for today lest it slip away too fast.
Topher is just simply one of the sweetest characters ever written. He loves and lives with passion, refusing to give into fear and pushing Stanton to take the risk in loving again. Stanton, who could easily come off as jaded and, a bit of a smartass, to be frank, never crosses that line. Instead author, Boney grounds this older man in a sorrow that has taken such deep root in his heart that the mere thought of trusting his love to another man again leaves him panicked and floundering. The normally cool and detached Stanton tries to run from Topher and the demons his presence unearths to no avail. Topher knows what he wants and he is determined to have it.
I could go on and on about this wonderful novel. The secondary characters, both sets of friends (Hutch’s and Topher’s) and Stanton’s best friend, Marvin, could be the basis for endless spinoff novels. Boney wasted no space in this book; each person and moment added to the story and made it better each time.
Honestly, this was so very well written. At the hands of a lesser writer, the idea that not one, but five individual souls could be in some ways reincarnated to live on would be just unbelievable. But the key here was that each person was unique, and even though correlations could be drawn from the present characters to those deceased, each was their own person. It’s like meeting someone for the first time and seeing a piece of a former friend in that person. The way they laugh or the words they use, a similar tone in their voice or a quirk that is so strikingly familiar. The Return by Brad Boney explores just that type of scenario with an inventive and refreshing look.
This novel was just outstanding and fixes this writer as an auto-buy for me. I highly recommend The Return by Brad Boney!
Tags: The Return, Brad Boney, Dreamspinner Press, m/m romance, paranormal, reincarnation, AIDS, gay for you, Older man/Young man relationship, Musicians, Rock Stars.