Review – What Binds Us – By Larry Benjamin
What Binds Us – By Larry Benjamin
Reviews – to me at least – are a tricky thing. On the one hand, when you like a book, you want to talk about all the things that make you like it. Balancing this desire is the need to not spoil things for others. Hiding things in spoilers is always an option, but how many of us don’t peek? So with that in mind, I’ll set out to do this justice without any spoilers.
I wish I could give this more than 5 stars and rate it more than once. There were times when I really felt Thomas-Edward, the narrator, was a real person sitting next to me and telling his story. The depth of the character and the bitter sweet undercurrent throughout the book left me feeling this could almost be an autobiography, the emotions were so vivid. Maybe it is, I don’t know the author other than exchanging a few emails, so it’s possible, but I don’t think it’s autobiographical, just damn good writing.
Several things about this book resonated with me – the setting, the age of the characters and the era they lived. Much of the book takes place in Philadelphia and Long Island. Thomas Edward grew up in Jersey, and went to college in Philadelphia. His roommate, the ultra rich, hyper sexy Dondi grew up on Long Island and went to school – obviously – in Philly. I grew up on Long Island – though of course no where near as wealthy or privileged as Dondi, and went to college in Philly, though not to Penn. I was about the same age as the characters at the time of the book so much of the period references were part of my growing up.
But if these things drew me to the story, it was the writing that kept me turning the pages. Benjamin calls himself a wordsmith as opposed to an author and when you read the words on the pages you can almost see the painstaking effort that went into making sure every word fit with all the others and the descriptions did justice to the images they represented.
Thomas Edward is a young black teenager, away from home for the first time in his life, at college and his roommate is the impossibly larger than life Dondi. Dondi is rich, beautiful, charismatic, fearless almost and in love with Thomas Edward. So much so he won’t allow anything to happen because he knows that no matter how much he loves Thomas Edward, he’ll never be faithful. Dondi grew up in the late 70’s and enjoyed the sexual freedom of his time.
Thomas thinks he’s in love with Dondi, until he meet Matthew, Dondi’s younger brother. Matthew is the opposite of Dondi and yet very much the same. It isn’t until Matthew and Thomas finally admit their feelings that Thomas understands what it means to be in love.
Benjamin said in an interview – no I’m not stalking him, I just read a few things he did to promote the book – that he wrote this as answer to the movie Philadelphia, which he didn’t think was a good portrayal of what it was like to live through the onset and devastation of AIDs epidemic in the early 80’s. It doesn’t take a scientist to figure out someone is going to get AIDs – maybe more than one – and for those old enough to have lived through that period, those who contracted AIDs almost always died.
The Story is really two stories, the love affair of Thomas and Matthew and the life and times Dondi. If Thomas is the heart and soul of the book – and he is – Dondi is the flash and sizzle. Thomas is an amazing character that you admire, love, cry for, laugh with and cheer. But the book is about Dondi, how he loved, how he lived and how he dealt with his illness.
The array of supporting characters linger with you long after you read the last page. Mr. and Mrs. Whyte – Dondi and Matthew’s parents. the three furies, Panther, Patrick, Phipps, all jump in and out, each leaving their mark.
This is not my typical genre, but would and will highly recommend this story. Definitely 5 out of 5.