Ted d’Urberville doesn’t have much. In fact, he has had nothing since the good will of friends and strangers ran dry following the death of both his parents. So, for the last six years, Ted’s been homeless in San Francisco and existing on the literal leavings of others—namely uneaten food and unattended electronic devices. The latter allows Ted to maintain his email, at least. One day, Ted gets a shocking email from a lawyer saying he may actually be the heir to a vast fortune. There is at least one immediate caveat: Ted has to get across the country in a week for the reading of the will.
Undeterred by the great distance or the lack of funds, Ted sets off on the journey of a lifetime. In a matter of days, he is in the northeastern part of the southwest. Here, he runs out of hitchhiking options and turns to train hopping. What he finds is a drug addict named Benny who may or may not be offering help. The clock is ticking and Ted literally has nothing to lose by throwing his lot in with Benny. They discover a connection between themselves that forms as fast as it goes deep—and utterly lopsided because the connection is entirely platonic on Benny’s part and very romantic on Ted’s part. Together, the two men combine their street smarts and manage to make the journey to New York.
Ted isn’t instantly welcomed back as a long lost cousin, however. He may not have grown up around wealth, but even he can tell the staff and family lawyer are hiding things from him. What’s worse, his apparent cousin has her sights set on the only bona fide good thing to have happened to Ted. Namely, she wants Benny. Suddenly, the idea of being wealthy beyond belief seems fraught and empty if Ted can’t share it with the person he loves.
Okay. While there are some very serious themes in the story (homelessness, abusive parents, suicide), Ted himself is a rather bouyant character. He knows his lot sucks (he’s living off ketchup packets and other people’s leftovers or straight up dumpster dining). But he describes himself as having hope. I think this attitude is reflected in a lot of Ted’s actions. He thinks nothing of hitchhiking with strangers. He thinks nothing of derailing his schedule to help Benny out before he realizes what a diamond in the rough Benny is. Ted’s got a good attitude regardless of the shit life has shoveled at him.
For the bulk of the road trip arc, Rosen focuses on the deepening relationship between Ted and Benny. This was a double-edged sword because despite all the physical intimacy they share (kisses, lots of mutual masturbation, preludes to fisting), the fact that Benny is straight while Ted is gay is constantly on Ted’s mind. I half expected some kind of “out for you” thing to materialize, but it never did. Benny often tries to explain why he gives and takes all that he does, but in the same breath explains that he’s straight and not gay and not bisexual. Take that however you like. This curious platonic/romantic mashup leads to some interesting scenes when Ted and Benny reach New York and Ted’s supposed family estate. Namely, there is another love interest presented for Ted.
One thing that is extremely present in the book is how sexually active Ted is (and by extension Benny and, later, Ted’s other love interest). I do enjoy me some on-page intimacy, but I found it sort of comedic just how frequently Ted is dropping trou or thinking about dropping trou. Once it was established that Ted and Benny would be having bennies, it seemed like there was some form of sexual innuendo or sex act every other page. Perhaps this insatiable desire for intimacy is meant to represent a coping mechanism. Late in the book, Ted finally wonders if his need to finger his sexual partners is his way of finally exercising some control. But for the most part, the narration just seems to reflect Ted’s near-constant desire for sex.
Speaking of the narration, I generally enjoyed the first-person narration. Being in Ted’s head helped give a bit of balance to all the sex he thinks about/has as it shows he has more thoughts than just getting his next orgasm. However, I was a bit put off by some stylistic devices. For example, phrases that repeat a thought in different word such as “ABC, that is to say XYZ” or “ABC. Meaning, XYZ.” Taken together, these kinds of expressions appear more than fifty times in this book. It was tiresome to re-read the same information repackaged.
Overall, this is a quirky road-trip story featuring unlikely heroes. I liked the adventure of seeing how a mean life on the streets helped Ted and Benny succeed in reaching their destination. The book doesn’t just end when the MCs reach their destination, but rather a sort of mystery element is introduced as the family tries to determine if Ted is, in fact, a relative entitled to an inheritance. There are some stylistic choices that may be a turn off (Ted’s preoccupation with fisting, repetitive narrative devices), but overall, the book felt like a light read that employed some dark elements.