Dana reviews The Return (The Austin Trilogy, Book 2) by Brad Boney (Published by Dreamspinner Press, July 5, 2013, 350 pages. Released on audio December 3, 2013, 11 hrs 10 mins. Narrated by Charlie David.)
It’s LGBTQIA week at Rainbow Gold Reviews, and we wanted to review a book each day featuring a character that represented a different letter of the acronym. I chose The Return for the letter G. We weren’t given a copy for review, but I have listened to his book several times and loved it so much that I just had to share it.
Music. Topher Manning rarely thinks about anything else, but his day job as a mechanic doesn’t exactly mesh with his rock-star ambitions. Unless he can find a way to unlock all the songs in his head, his band will soon be on the fast track to obscurity.
Then the South by Southwest music festival and a broken-down car drop New York critic Stanton Porter into his life. Stanton offers Topher a ticket to the Bruce Springsteen concert, where a hesitant kiss and phantom vibrations from Topher’s cell phone kick off a love story that promises to transcend ordinary possibility.
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Thank you so much for taking time to answer a few questions for our Rainbow Gold Reviews readers. I am a big fan of all of your books, but The Return is one my favorite books I’ve ever read.
Thank you. Of my four books, it’s the one that has stuck with readers the longest. There was a recent “tag” on Facebook where people were asked to post the 10 books that most changed their lives, and I saw The Return on three lists. That was very satisfying.
This is a three-part question. Music is a huge part of this book. How much influence does music have on your writing? Do you play any instruments? And who is your favorite musician?
Music stands in for the “soul” in the book. That’s how I always looked at it. At one point, Hutch says something like, “Everything I ever was, I stored it all in the music.” Like the soul, music doesn’t have a physical manifestation. But it’s real. And although music very much influenced The Return, it doesn’t really inform the other books. The Nothingness of Ben is more influenced by movies and television, The Eskimo Slugger by baseball, and in Yes, instead of a long discussion about music, three of the central characters have a long discussion about gay porn. So I pick the aspect of pop culture that best suits the story, and in the case of The Return, that was definitely music. The first word of the blurb is “Music.” I saturated the book with song titles (to some readers’ dismay). As for instruments, I play a little piano and guitar. I own the black Fender on the cover of the book. My favorite musician is probably Carly Simon, but like Stanton, my favorite song is still “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”
What was your inspiration for The Return? Did you know where this story would go when you were writing The Nothingness of Ben?
Before I wrote The Return in 2012, I’d been carrying around the idea for about 15 years. The biggest inspiration was a non-fiction book I read in 1996 called Many Lives, Many Masters, by Brian L. Weiss. That sparked the idea, and then the story went through many variations over the years. Another influence was the film Longtime Companion, which I re-watched right before I started The Return. When Hutch and Stanton are walking on the beach in chapter two, they run into two guys named Fuzzy and Willy. Those are two characters from Longtime Companion, and in the film they take a walk on the same Fire Island beach on the same day (July 3, 1981). The film opens on that date, and my chapter two is also on that date, so it’s a little Easter egg crossover.
I had a pretty good idea of where The Return would go when I was writing The Nothingness of Ben. I “introduce” the character of Christopher Mead via the empty chair at Thanksgiving, and I plant many things in the story of Ben and Travis that don’t pay off until The Eskimo Slugger. In case readers don’t know, The Nothingness of Ben, The Return, and The Eskimo Slugger (in that order) are a trilogy.
Which character, if any, in your books do you feel is most like you?
I often say that Ben has none of my biography but all of my character flaws. Stanton has a lot of my biography (I went to NYU from 1980-84), but little else. The character most like me is probably Ian from Yes. I was able to express a lot of my frustrations as an older gay man through him.
Who is the character you’ve enjoyed writing the most?
Topher. No question. He’s essentially good, which I’m not. He’s neither selfish nor self-centered, both of which I am. He’s the perfect boyfriend. The Return works because of him. And my two favorite scenes from all four books are Topher’s phone conversation with you know who, and Topher’s late-night kitchen chat with Ian in Yes.
Fire Island sounds like it would be so fun as does The Greatest Game Ever. Did you use your own experiences when writing The Return?
I’ve been to Fire Island twice, so I know the geography, I’ve seen the Invasion, I’ve danced at the Pavilion (before it burned down), and I understand the house culture. It’s a blast, no doubt. But I only used my experience to make sure the details were right. Both times I was there, I was with a boyfriend, so there was no opportunity to meet hunky bartenders. And I’ve played versions of The Greatest Game with friends over the years. It’s a nice shorthanded way to get to know strangers.
HIV/AIDS is a heavy subject, but a relevant one I think. How difficult is it to write about, and what made you decide to tackle it?
This is a good but tricky question, because it’s hard to answer without spoiling the book. In order for the story to work, certain things (like death) need to happen. I couldn’t have written The Return 10 years ago, because Topher would be too young. Ten years from now, Stanton will be too old (I’m stretching things as it is). AIDS was an obvious solution to a plot conundrum. I never set out to tackle it, but I obviously didn’t shy away from it either. The book is bittersweet, and AIDS is a big part of the bitter. I didn’t find it difficult to write about, though. The sadness that hangs over the second half of the book is one of the reasons it stays with readers. As a writer, I relish that kind of emotional territory. The tears I shed while writing it were cathartic.
Can you tell us if you have any books you are working on? Will they be in the same universe you have set your four other books?
I haven’t written much since my Mom died in February. After four books, I needed a break. I’m not really a writer—I’m more a guy who might occasionally write a book. That being said, I have started a YA time travel novel called Brothers Across Time, which is not in the same universe. I will probably write a sequel to The Nothingness of Ben at some point. And I have an idea for a book written in 20 chapters over 20 years, with each chapter covering a single day in each year. I apologize to readers waiting for another book, because it might be awhile.
Thank you again! I look forward to reading more from you in the future.
Thank you for the opportunity. It was a pleasure.
The cover: If this book was a song it might be titled, “Ode to Bruce Springsteen.” Bruce and his music play a big part in this story, even the chapters are named after song tracks. As a fan of “The Boss” I truly appreciated the book cover which mimics the cover of Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run album.
The narrator: The narrator of this book, Charlie David is a good narrator. I have enjoyed several of his narrations in the past. The southern accent he uses for Topher in this book does not really fit his nasal tones. However, he really brings the emotion to this book. His voice sounds like it is really breaking during the sad moments and I could feel my eyes begin to water. I have listened to this book several times, so I would definitely say that I enjoyed the book and his narration.
The story: How can I say how much I love this book? I LOVE THIS BOOK!! It is the perfect mix of reality and mysticism, heartbreak and romance, forgiveness and redemption. There are two stories told in this book, that take place thirty years apart. An abundance of coincidences and similarities between the two lend a mystical feel to the story and I was drawn into the world the author created.
Stanton Porter is a music critic visiting Texas to see Bruce Springsteen at a music festival. He ends up at a repair garage with his borrowed car and meets Topher Manning, a mechanic. Outside of being a mechanic, Topher is a musician and has a band with his friends Maurice, Robin, and Peter. A lucky stroke of fate for Topher, Stanton has an extra ticket and they meet up later at the concert. Topher has always considered himself straight, but sex hasn’t had a lot of appeal for him. A pull toward Stanton is a surprise for him. Despite being two decades older than Topher, Stanton feels something back. A relationship between them should be easy because they have great chemistry but distance between their homes and ages does cause some complications. Not to mention how Topher reminds Stanton of someone he loved a long time ago.
Cut back to the 1980’s, Stanton and his best friend Marvin are visiting Fire Island and meet an interesting group of guys Hutch (Chris), Michael, Robert, and Paul. Hutch and Stanton fell for each other fast and Hutch showed Stanton the amazing music of Bruce Springsteen. A concert date at the end of the Fire Island trip solidified their romance. Over a five year period, the six men become the best of friends, lovers, sisters… They bond most over their love of music.
Unfortunately this was the early 1980’s and safe sex wasn’t a common practice, especially as a gay man who couldn’t get his partner pregnant. The “gay cancer” that was eventually known as HIV/AIDS was just coming out. At first it didn’t seem like much to worry about, and the group of men even make jokes about it. Soon, the carefree times they enjoyed in college were over, though. Chris gives up his dream of making music to take a “real” job, and the group of men face hard facts about love, life, and loss. The struggles of growing older, more responsibilities, and the circumstances of the times cut short the romance between Chris and Stanton.
It isn’t the end of either of their stories, though. I felt a strong surge of hope at this second chance at love story with a mystical twist. It shows a much broader world with endless possibilities. Even though Stanton and Chris, and Stanton and Topher are the main subjects of the story, it encompasses the group of their friends, and even Ben and Travis from book one of the trilogy. The author writes all the characters in a way that you can feel and understand every one of them. I wished I could have been friends with all of them.
I really could go on about this story all day. But I might just tell you too much. 😉 I love the different themes. The forgiveness that happens for several characters. The sweet love story, and the sexy encounters. I love the way the author talks about music, the way certain songs make you feel, and the technical aspect of writing a song. You can tell he knows what he is talking about. I definitely felt like I took this journey with the characters. Though this book is the second book in The Austin Trilogy it can be read as a stand-alone. I highly encourage you to check out the rest of the series as well as Yes which does feature character crossovers. As for me, The Return holds the place of my favorite book I’ve ever read.
10/10 Pots of Gold (100% Recommended) – Compares to 5/5 Stars
Brad Boney lives in Austin, Texas, the 7th gayest city in America. He grew up in the Midwest and went to school at NYU. He lived in Washington, DC and Houston before settling in Austin. He blames his background in the theater for his writing style, which he calls “dialogue and stage directions.” His first book was named a Lambda Literary Award finalist. He believes the greatest romantic comedy of all time is ’50 First Dates’. His favorite gay film of the last ten years is ‘Strapped’. And he has never met a boy band he didn’t like.