Without music, life would be a mistake.” Friedrich Nietzche
I absolutely loved The Nothingness of Ben, Brad Boney’s first novel. I was looking forward to The Return from the moment I finished “Ben”. Mr. Boney certainly didn’t disappoint. Not only did he follow up with the major and minor characters from “Ben”, he introduced a whole new group of characters who are every bit as riveting.
When you read the blurb about The Return, it begins by telling you about Topher Manning, then in the second paragraph it outlines Stanton Porter’s role in the book. I feel as though Stanton’s importance cannot be understated.
They say that there is nothing new under the sun. Well, whoever “they” are is wrong. In The Return, Brad Boney gives us a story like I’ve never read before. There may be a similar book out there somewhere, but it is an entirely new trope as far as I am concerned. There are actually two stories happening at once. That is not unusual. The two stories unfolding in a parallel manner are about a MC’s past and present. This is also not unusual. What is very unusual is the way in which Brad Boney brings those stories together.
The Return is a story about music. It is a romance novel, but at its heart, it is about music and how it connects us all. No matter your age, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or income level, music has played a role in your life. The role which it played in your life is something you have in common with countless others.
Stanton Porter is in Austin for the South By Southwest music festival. He is a music critic for NPR (National Public Radio). Topher Manning is an auto mechanic who works at the shop in front of which Stanton’s borrowed car breaks down. Stanton is gay. Topher does not identify as gay but has had a less than stellar sex life with women. Stanton is also twenty-five years older than Topher. None of these things stop Stanton from asking Topher to accompany him to the Bruce Springsteen concert that evening.
During Thunder Road, something magical happens. There are many of you reading this review who have had something magical happen during that song. I am one of them. It is a magical song, perhaps one of the best ever written. Topher’s phone vibrates but the screen is black. He tastes salt water on his lips. And he can’t help himself, he kisses Stanton. This is the first step in Brad Boney’s absolutely brilliant unfolding parallel stories.
We read about Stanton as a nineteen year old, meeting the love of his life and that young man’s group of friends in the early 1980s. In alternating chapters, we read about Stanton meeting Topher and his group of friends today. The similarities are eerie. One thing remains the same through both parts of The Return, the music. It is never far from the hearts and minds and lips of this fascinating cast of characters.
There are expected bumps in the roads. Homophobic parents, Stanton’s aversion to the age difference between Topher and himself. But the music overcomes it all. The music knowledge that Brad Boney illustrates in The Return proves that he is a musical genius or a very thorough researcher. Maybe he’s both.
I know this review hasn’t contained much of a synopsis of the book. There are too many ways I could give away spoilers if I tried to summarize The Return for you. If you love music, if you love love, if you believe in the power of love to overcome anything put in its path, you will love this book. If you read and loved The Nothingness of Ben, you will love this book, if for no other reason than catching up with the first set of fascinating people Brad Boney introduced us to. I fiercely (thank you thesaurus for giving me a word even stronger than “highly”) recommend this book to everyone.
I will leave you with what has been stuck in my head since Chapter One. The screen door slams, Mary’s dress sways. Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays…
Reviewed by: Tina