Other Reviewers: Goodreads
The title of the book, Afflicted, by Brandon Shire can be viewed in several contexts. But first, we must understand the definition of “Afflicted”?
“(Of a problem or illness) cause pain or suffering to; affect or trouble.” Origin is from the Latin word afflictare (‘injure, harass’) and/or afflict (‘knocked down, weakened’).
So, we can see that there are several meanings to understand from this title. I think Shire wishes us to understand what is perceived on the surface and other deeper aspects found within the characters.
First, the surface: some might call blindness an “affliction”, although in Hunter’s case it does not stop him from living a full life. Deeper: What causes pain or suffering? In both cases, we have men who suffer, they suffer because of their desire for each other and of their history and they suffer because of their fear of the future and a chance at happiness together. But we will discuss that a little later. First: the basic plot.
On the surface, this book is very simple: boy meets boy, boy has sex with boy, boy gets cold feet, and then boy returns to try to make a relationship with boy. Simple right? But what happens when each of the characters don’t feel they are good enough for the other? What happens when outside forces complicate an already complex situation?
It is not giving anything away to say that one of the major issues in this book/relationship is that Dillon is an escort (A.K.A prostitute) and how does any partner get over what he does for a living? It’s not like when you start dating you can tell someone, “Hey, I need you to quit your job and rearrange your entire life.” Certainly that is one struggle that Hunter deals with early on in this book.
A chance meeting between a blind man (Hunter Stephens) and an escort (Dillon Chambers) starts the beginning of a friendship and romance. But can they overcome their differences and pasts to make this relationship work?
Hunter is someone who was born with blindness, and we see how his mother coddled and attempted to control his surroundings because of her fear of his illness. We see him at the beginning of the book, fairly independent, but that past is something that still haunts his current life. The “mother overprotected blind man’s chip on his shoulder” is still firmly apparent and that colors everything he sees in his life.
Everyone had treated him gently his entire life, like he was a fragile little butterfly that would break if you handled him too rough. That attitude enraged him. It was even worse when it happened with the few lovers he’d brought home, as if he was too delicate to fuck.
Hunter yearns for something more tangible and “dirty” than his current life. He improves his confidence and independence by learning martial arts. We see him searching for ways in his life he can make it “real” than the gauzy, peanut packing safe his mother has always made his life.
In Dillon, his affliction is all in his head, his past and current profession haunts him; he believes that no one good and clean like Hunter would really want him. He sees himself as tainted by his living:
A long time ago he believed that he was above the men chasing him; capitulating to their secret desires and dark fears was what he did to survive, nothing more and nothing less. But now he understood that all that reasoning was nothing more than a self-assessing loop which he had used as a survival mechanism. It had run constantly but never actually went anywhere; like a rat on a flywheel, all action, no forward motion.
While what Dillon has here is self-disgust, it is the first step to realization that he can transform his current lifestyle. For him to fully grasp what is possible he must change his perception of his inner being and must change how he lives. He no longer needs to merely survive: he can thrive.
I think that the theme is love in this book, but it’s more on how we view love. A quote:
“He said we all have this different idea of what love is and that’s what makes our circle. The more ideas and misconceptions you throw in, the larger the diameter and the harder it is to connect with someone. We,” he said, squeezing Hunter’s hand and signaling Margie and everyone around them, “all sit around the edge looking at everyone else around the circle. Sometimes we just settle for the person next to us because it’s easy or convenient and we skip our way around its circumference, never really knowing what love is all about.”
Both men have let their past, their fears, Hunter and Dillon’s misconceptions color their view of the relationship and possibility for love. It is through their courage to change that they find love and make their circle just a little bit smaller.
So for me, I see Hunter’s blindness as a symbol of how we let our physical self hold us back from possibility and Dillon’s fear and shame of his personal history/current job stop him from a better future is how we hold back from taking opportunities for a better life. We must overcome ourselves before we can overcome outside forces. Sometimes, the ones holding the chains is ourselves.
The writing. It amazes me how Shire paints a picture of Hunter’s “vision” with words. He has such an ability to illustrate how Hunter uses his other senses, and we somehow find Hunter has no less a full view of his surroundings. I found their love scenes some of the best examples of this style:
He inhaled again, taking in Dillon’s scent, swirling it in his nostrils and tasting it on his tongue. As he breathed he could almost feel the elixir of Dillon’s lust join the oils on his skin and reached to unfasten his pants. They fell straight to the floor leaving only Dillon’s boxers as a defense against all the small tortures Hunter’s tongue had devised.
The author conducted thorough research in the area of blindness and I commend him. It permitted me to obtain such a deeper understanding of Hunter’s life and his accomplishments to overcome his limitations.
What could be better?
Honestly, not much. I do wish we had the whole story, but that is not a complaint against the author but rather me afflicted by an impatient mind.
Honestly, I think anyone who is tired of reading books with characters that are always perfect physically should read this book. If you have ever been curious of how an author can skillfully paint a world in sound and taste for the blind, this book is for you. Certainly if you are looking for a good male/male romance, this book is for you. I would also suggest that be one of the first books you try if you are new to male/male. It is an illustration of what is the best in the genre.