THIS BOOK wrecked me emotionally. It’s the only novel where after reading a harrowing, heart-wrenching chapter, I went to my husband and genuinely cried. I’m not a naturally sappy person, so to have read something that caused that kind of deep, guttural reaction in me is a powerful thing.
The Return is told in the present day and in flashbacks from the 1980s. The connections between the young gay men of the 80s (Stanton, the love of his life, ‘Hutch,’ or Chris, and their small, close-knit group of friends) and Topher and his small, close-knit group of friends/ bandmates transcend probabilities in the most unique and special way. Both groups of friends have their share of laughs, love, successes, and problems. The profound, complicated relationships in this novel—and in the “Austin Series” as a whole—are so effective they have never left my mind.
I feel I know these characters as people. Boney’s writing is efficacious in its desire to be relatable to the reader even if they have never experienced any of his characters’ feelings, situations or traumas–or even if they are a queer reader. That said, the queer/gay experience of these men is especially profound to those of us who have felt these feelings, have embraced their unique tribe of people and, sadly, experienced loss due to HIV and AIDS.
The rise of HIV and AIDS in the 80s flashback scenes, and how it affects that group is raw and powerful. And it destroyed me. But it is this unfairness, this thievery of love and life, that propels the unique theme of this novel—what a dying Hutch so mysteriously writes to a young, distraught Stanton: “Play the long game.” I’m tearing up just writing this. This novel is as magical as it is heartbreaking.
I can’t recommend this novel enough. I would still suggest reading the first novel in the series, The Nothingness of Ben (also a tour de force that I’ll review at a later date) before The Return, even though this novel is a self-contained story. In the “Austin Series,” there are three novels in total, and their overall connectivity will be much more meaningful if you do. I chose to review the second novel before the first because of how it affected me on such a visceral level.