THE NOTHINGNESS of Ben is Book 1 in Brad Boney’s The Austin Trilogy, a series of gay fiction/romance novels set primarily in Austin, Texas.
Handsome Manhatten litigator Ben Walsh has a seemingly perfect (gay) life until he gets a phone call from back home that throws everything into a tailspin. A terrible car accident has taken the lives of his parents, forcing him to return home to Austin, Texas, to look after his three teenage brothers. But with a significant age gap and having only made the rare visit home, he barely knows them. At the funeral, Ben meets Travis Atwood, “the redneck neighbour with a huge heart,” and a complex, confounding, even occasionally contentious relationship begins. Wait. Isn’t Travis straight?
Ben is a character that starts off pretty self-interested, unlike Travis, but through Ben’s ongoing interactions with his brothers and Travis, the reader begins to see an exciting transformation. While Travis explores and connects to his authentic (sexual) self, Ben attains emotional growth and grounding. A transitioning from distant older brother to involved surrogate parent and from emotionally unavailable lover to committed partner.
The part that is truly special about Boney’s The Austin Trilogy is the one aspect of the storytelling one never expected, especially if you start the series with The Nothingness of Ben. In this novel, Ben and Travis’ romance is very much on a metaphysical level. Boney takes the trope of bi-awakening, or perhaps, gay acceptance, as it can be read either way here with Travis’ story, and turns it on its head. I’ve never been a big fan of the whole schtick of instant queerness when caused by one special gay dude, especially when there’s rarely any compelling reason for the straight male character’s sexuality shift other than, “And then it just hit me! I’m hot for a guy!” It doesn’t work for me as a genre trope, even though it’s a popular M/M one. And perhaps that’s why I read The Nothingness of Ben, the entire Austin Trilogy, in fact, as Gay Fiction or Gay Romance rather than M/M Fiction. While the gay sex is hot, it doesn’t control or pervade the narrative. There’s a level of storytelling that really pushes the romance and the emotional relationships of the novel’s characters. It’s more than how their bodies look naked or how one desires them sexually. Sexual gratification and representation, while having their place, are not the driving factors in these novels.
In The Nothingness of Ben, and with the entire Austin Trilogy, there’s an underlying narrative of predestination. I might even go as far as to use the term “soul mates.” Okay, I don’t want to get ahead of myself. So, I’ll say that upon reading the second novel in the series, The Return (and you can read my review of that novel in an earlier BLOG post), the reader will see a powerful, Spiritual Design at work in the lives of certain male couples from varying time periods, characters which are interconnected between the three books. In fact, you’ll see how Fate and Time play a part in the lives of these gay/queer men, with the cruelness of separation (And how!) and the promise of second chances (BIG TIME!).
One of Boney’s strengths as a writer is that he’s a master at constructing dialogue. The Nothingness of Ben is filled with complex yet fluid, stimulating discourse. There are often fiery back-and-forth conversations where quickness of pace is merited to connote a slap-in-the-face reckoning or to impart a lesson. Other times, the exchanges between characters are uncomfortable, slow burns allowing pain, anger, and disappointment to sink in gradually. Words are weaponized to establish a character’s emotions. Almost no one is exempt from at least one profound, transformative conversation. These moments, be they heated and pointed or intense and moving, are necessary, often eliciting a cathartic outcome for the characters.
The Nothingness of Ben, like the two novels that follow it, contains sex scenes that are hot and passionate, as well as those more intimate and moving. They’re fun and well-positioned throughout the novel, and not so many as to oversaturate the book with erotic intent; still, these scenes are just icing on the cake. It’s truly the dialogue, including the often raw and sexual vocabulary, that drives the story and connects the reader to it. Some noteworthy moments are between Ben and his boyfriend David, Ben and his Aunt, and, of course, Ben and Travis. One unexpected conversation is between Ben and his father, but that’s on a, let’s say, another level entirely.
Brad Boney’s The Nothingness of Ben is a journey that starts with tragedy and, through a lot of trial and error and love, ends up where everything and everyone was meant to be. I strongly encourage you to read the entire Austin Trilogy. The interconnectedness of these novels is truly exciting, well-conceived storytelling that will touch your heart.
The Nothingness of Ben is available for purchase on Indigo.ca, Amazon.ca and Amazon.com. For more information about this author, follow Brad Boney on his website, bradboney.com, and on Facebook and Twitter.