Review: The Nothingness of Ben — by Brad Boney

Nothing_benOther Reviewers: Goodreads

Lately life has been hectic, and my list of to-read in Goodreads has leapt to 114 since the fall.  Deciding that I had reviewed enough fan-fiction lately, I pulled through my lists until I drilled back to the fall with The Nothingness of Ben.  I thoroughly loved this book and I am kicking myself in not reading it sooner.  This is just a warning to all of us to remember to look backward in our lists from time to time.

This is not the first of Brad Boney’s books I have reviewed; I read and reviewed The Return in August 2013.  The Return was a most unusual storyline, intertwining two different time periods with a bit of mysticism.  The books are not connected as a series, yet they are related.  The Nothingness of Ben was published in 2012 and The Return the following year, so I do believe I would recommend reading them in that order.  Note that the Mead family play secondary roles in both novels and are the tie between them.

Basic Plot:

Ben Walsh is a successful trial lawyer in New York, hobnobbing with the famous Mead family and dating a sexy pilot named David.  He is openly gay and is on the fast track.  Enter disaster when his parents suddenly died, leaving all three of his younger brothers in his care.  Can Ben leave everything in New York to raise his brothers in Austin, Texas?  Can he merge the two worlds?  Travis Atwood has been living the nomad life for years, never finding true love or a job he loved.  However, the Walsh’s had taken him in and now he finds becoming friends with Ben easily.  Is it possible they can become romantically involved or is the time just never right?

Ben Walsh:

We see the book through Ben’s perspective, so we hope that he is fairly unbiased.  Which, as a whole, he is a well-rounded individual so we trust his perceptions.  Within Ben we see someone who has felt a bit of an outcast all of his life as a gay man in the south and with a religious family.  Once he comes out, while he is not shunned, it is certainly not comfortable for him to remain, thus his estrangement with his family.  Ben is a brilliant lawyer, and that drive toward success has his focused on work rather than family.

Thus, the shock of finding out that his parents died and he must reassess his goals and priorities.  He is an overall likable character, although we could say he is a bit of an asshole, but he’s my type of asshole, not mean-spirited.  Early on Ben is frightened to become the caretaker of his younger brothers:

“I don’t know.  This is serious shit.  If I fuck it up, then I’m fucking up three lives.  And I don’t know if I can do it.  I have a life back in New York.  I’m supposed to walk away from all that?”

This is the crux of Ben’s inner conflict:  is he good enough to be a parent to his brothers and can he give up his dreams for his family?  Could you walk away from your dream job and adopted family?

Travis Atwood:

Travis is the same “fish out of water” as Ben is, but in the other direction.  Travis is a straight, country boy who lives a simple life but has a big heart.  Ben’s comments early on demonstrate Travis’ heart:

If you’re a second big brother in their lives, then that’s fucking fantastic.  You were there for them before this happened, so please be there now when they really need you.

The problem becomes that Travis doesn’t fit in Ben’s world and Travis is straight.  Yet, getting to know Ben starts to expand his horizon in more than one way.

Theme Summary:

I have several highlights on theme, all of which are good signs in the quality of writing.  There are several quotes:

“All you can do is be there.  They don’t need you to be the perfect brother.  Ninety percent of life is showing up.”

and then:

“I couldn’t know that from my point of view.”

and finally:

“Something my dad used to say.  When everything is confusing and murky, he told us to treat it like muddy water.  Stop.  Sit still.  Let the dirt settle and eventually the water will clear up.”

So we have two men stuck in the muddy waters of their lives, too focused on their own perspectives and history.  What they need to do is to look around and find some compromise and perspective.  I think this is a lesson we could all use in our lives.

Strong Points:

Boney is an extremely strong writer with a plan for theme and plot that goes farther than a “simple love story”.  He makes us think, which is something I love when I find it in a “romance” book.  The writing is top-notch and I found myself tearing up and fanning myself in all the right points of the plot.  What I loved best about the writing is the allusions and storytelling.  Boney didn’t hit us on the head with plot or theme, he gently and subtly moves us from point A to point B, giving us hints along the way.  I love an author who lets me get as much as I can out of the book.

What could be better?

The only thing I disliked about this book, was something that distracted me, but did not obstruct my enjoyment.  Throughout the novel we got what I call “jargon” talk like “LTR” and other “hip” talk.  A little would be fine, but this crossed over to me truly noticing it.

Conclusions:

I believe that Brad Boney will have a massively successful writing career in the M/M world.  He manages to combine strong characters that are not black and white, complex themes, and hot sex scenes all to keep us motivated to the last page.  This is certainly worth the read and your time.

Bea

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