Review: What Binds Us, by Larry Benjamin

Blurb:

cover-larrybenjamin-whatbindsusThomas-Edward is only a teenager when he escapes his working-class neighborhood. He’s ready for anything—except the arrival of Donovan Whyte in his life. Sophisticated and dazzlingly handsome, Dondi quickly becomes the center of Thomas-Edward’s universe, introducing him to a world full of drama, passion and feuding families.

When their relationship fizzles, they remain uneasy friends until Dondi invites Thomas-Edward to his family’s summer house. Thomas-Edward is immediately attracted to Dondi’s mysterious brother, Matthew—and finds himself hopelessly drawn to both men.

As time passes, Thomas-Edward develops a unique bond with both brothers as they orbit around each other, although he knows only one of them can be his lifelong love. Will the three of them be able to find a way to hold on to each other? Or will love, its loss and the threat of death destroy their connection once and for all?


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Edition read:
March 19, 2012
Carina Press

Contemporary (ish), GLBT+
204 e-book pages
1st person
Stand-Alone
February 7-8, 2016
Kindle Edition

See the book on GoodReads.

Rating:     ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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Review:

This is not a typical romance winding its way through the garden of tropes to an expected HEA. But it’s definitely a love story. It’s a powerful love story that spans about ten years from the 70s and into the 80s and encompasses an enormous amount of growth.

My little issues, quick-like, before moving on–I want them out of the way because this story is so much bigger. And I’m me…so I’ve gotta lay out the honesty. I found the writing to be almost…overly narrative at times. There was some beautiful imagery wrapped up in eloquent phrasing, but I felt it got overshadowed by a goodly amount of telling instead of showing. And, unfortunately, the most beautiful phrases I came across sometimes felt disjointed, separate from the greater whole, as they felt randomly planted amidst ordinary prose. This is told in first-person, almost in the style of a memoir, recounting events, moving forward chronologically in small blocks of time. There were small bits of dialogue interspersed, that, unfortunately at times, also felt disjointed and didn’t always help propel the story forward.

But, the story itself was enough to keep me engaged. Honestly, the gripeage above is minor for me in that was mostly eclipsed by the absolute beauty I found in the overall tale.

This story really takes off in 1977 with Thomas-Edward’s freshman year in college where he rooms with the filthy-stinking-incomprehensibly-rich, Dondi.

Dondi shines brighter than the sun and has the sort of personality that everyone he meets gets sucked into his orbit. Thomas-Edward is often shocked and surprised by Dondi’s antics–as was I in this sometimes fantastical Gatsby-esque tale.

It’s Dondi’s brother, Matthew, who ends up stealing T’s heart–and theirs is a love that is epic. It’s kind, it’s patient, it’s respectful, it’s sensual and lovely…it is the kind of love we should all have, and yet most of us only dream of.

This story progresses into the 1980s as these three men (mostly) mature into adulthood and are slotting themselves into life and companionship–forging their way with Thomas-Edward firmly a member of this family as a lover and a best friend to two brothers.

Then…

Let’s take a pause.

Do me a favor and think about this time before cell phones, personal computers, and social media, when books didn’t have a power button.

The 70’s was a stew of upheaval and cultural significance clad in polyester bell-bottoms and earth shoes, mini skirts and go-go boots. This was the Vietnam era, the Nixon/Ford/Carter administrations in the US. There was the energy crisis, economic recession, and lots of unrest around the world. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s began to unravel in the 70s. But, the gay movement took a few huge steps forward with some big names coming out of the closet. It was also “The ‘Me’ Decade,” and I can’t help but mention that we also had Disco Fever and the Atari 2600.

Then came the 80s with all its big aqua-net hair, acid-washed, shoulder-padded fluorescence. The economy mostly took a turn for the better, technology advanced, and the Berlin Wall came down. We had boomboxes, the Walkman, and the Commodore 64 for all our personal 8-bit/64 kB RAM computing needs. Unfortunately, advancement in Civil Rights was at a crawl while rights for disabled, homosexuals, and Native Americans were broadened…some.

And HIV and AIDS became a thing–a pandemic that has since taken the lives of nearly 40 million people worldwide.

This. This is where I reached a part of the book were my own vivid memories sidled right up to the story in my hands and proceeded to slice my heart wide open.

It reached in and gutted me.

 

This book tells the story of love from beginning to an end that never ends, just strengthens, reshapes, and moves forward. It’s the story of holding on while letting go and embracing the now while looking ahead but never forgetting the past.

And I umm…

It’s taken me some time to still my heart after reading this. Tears keep coming because I’m thinking of the smiles of loved ones lost and whose memories have never left my heart.

I’m a better person for reading it.

{{In memory of R., who made Broadway show tunes sound like hymns; and for J., W., and N., who I’m certain have joined his celestial choir even though none of ’em could carry a tune in a bucket.}}

**

This review also posted on GoodReads.

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