Ben is a sergeant in the Corinth police department who has sacrificed his relationship with his wife and daughter for his commitment to work. When colleague and best friend, Jason, arrests Donnie Saunders for a suspected hit-and-run offense, Ben senses that there is something behind Donnie’s tired and nervous exterior that awakens a dormant attraction in him.
Ben goes home that night to be told by his wife that their marriage is over; his response is to drive to the city and get drunk. Waking up on the backseat of his car with a hangover, Ben goes in search of coffee and sees a sign for an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. It is here that he meets Donnie again. Ben becomes a regular at the meetings, enough to notice when Donnie is unusually absent, forcing him to unofficially use his police access to find out the other man’s address. Finding Donnie beaten, Ben takes care of him and a friendship between them develops. However, when Donnie becomes sicker, Ben is forced to take him to the hospital. Donnie’s revelations here place a question mark over the future he and Ben could have together.
In A World Apart, Mel Gough deals with love and the issue of trying to live a normal life, despite being HIV positive. These subjects would usually tug at my heartstrings, but unfortunately, Gough failed to evoke an emotional response from me. I think one of the main reasons for this is Ben’s early declaration that he is “falling in love with Donnie.” The instalove trope is probably my least favorite because to me it seems unbelievable and at the point when Ben makes this admission, these two characters barely know one another, Ben’s general unhappiness with his life makes him seem desperate. I think Gough’s aim was probably to make Donnie and Ben’s relationship appear more significant to the reader because both men have personal issues, but this did not work for me.
Ben also acknowledges that he has previously put work before his wife and daughter and yet suddenly we see him taking time off to care for Donnie. This actually made me uncomfortable because for me, there is nothing more important than being a parent and I am not sure whether Ben is selfish or just clueless! This extends to when Ben moves Donnie into his family home to allow Donnie to recuperate. I think this is Gough’s attempt to reveal more of Ben’s caring side and the depth of emotion he has for Donnie. However, this action was something else which annoyed me. We may be aware that Ben’s marriage has broken down, but I think having Donnie there is disrespectful to both his wife and daughter, especially when the thirteen-year-old is unaware of Ben’s bisexuality.
Donnie’s HIV positive status is a significant aspect of A World Apart and Gough has clearly informed herself about the medications and side effects in relation to Donnie’s medical care. I think Gough’s representation of Donnie is encouraging, particularly because in the past an HIV positive diagnosis equaled death. Through Donnie, Gough shows the range of treatment options available and that finding work, love, and hope for a future, as well as having sex, are all possible.
In contrast to this, Gough does deal with alcoholism, drug-taking, abuse, and death. I like the way that Gough shows the effect this has on Donnie by using a first-person narrative for him, which punctuates the third-person narration of the rest of the story. This allows us to empathize more with Donnie’s character, not necessarily because of his illness, but because of his vulnerability and strength.
A World Apart may have failed to stir my emotions, but Gough does deal with important issues in a thoughtful way and though the romance failed to captivate me, Gough’s characterization of Donnie is interesting. I would not recommend this as a book readers rush out to buy, but I think this could be one to add to a TBR pile.