About the Book
Title: In His Eyes
Author: Larry Benjamin
Published: August 1, 2017
Category: fiction, gay books
Genre: gay literature
“When you boys fall in love, fall in love with his smile—because his smile will never age or change—and his eyes because in his eyes, you will always see the truth.” That advice launches two young men on the journey to adulthood.
Told in 139 “vignettes,” each dedicated to a single event, this is the story of four young men who meet in college, and follows them for more than two decades as they navigate the landscape of modern gay life.
Often playful and imaginative, but firmly grounded in the reality of gay men living in a perplexing, often hostile world, In His Eyes takes us on a journey with these men as they mature and fall in love, and struggle to maintain relationships among petty disappointments and broken dreams, while navigating the rough terrain of acceptance both internal and external.
As they break apart and come together, wound and heal, we are left to ask ourselves: does love ever really die, or is it just reborn in another time and place?
If you read one book this year, make it this one.
From the very first page, I felt like I’d stepped right into the lives of the characters, and I was oblivious to anything around me. For an afternoon, I was transported to their time and place. This is the fastest I’ve ever read a book of that length. I kept saying, “Just one more section, and then I’ll pause.” I never got around to pausing.
This is everything I love in a good literary work: solid characters who feel real; relationships but not a romance; a wide range of emotions; realism without a focus exclusively on angst; sensuality without graphic sex; brilliant symbolism; and a hopeful ending. I don’t know that I want to use the word “perfect” (can anything ever truly achieve perfection?), but this is about as close as it gets.
The style was different from what I’m used to, but it didn’t take long to acclimate. Each section is told from “outside,” in third person semi-omniscient, and followed by one or more first-person more intimate revelations from the characters. I loved it because the multiple perspectives are highly revealing of the characters’ insecurities and flaws but also their growth.
I am not necessarily the target audience for this book. I cannot speak to the experience of being a man or black or gay. But isn’t the hallmark of a great book that we can still find ourselves in the pages, even when we don’t share identity markers with the characters? That is how I felt. There were some specific moments that spoke to my soul, making me laugh or gasp or cry because I knew somehow that I was being seen.
And that is really the running thread of this story. It’s a series of moments, all of which contrast the seen with the unseen, the visible and the invisible, in different ways. There’s a lot of deeply symbolic elements that would take days to unpack. This is the beauty and complexity of the lives of the men in the novel and of the writing itself.
I think saying much more would invite the temptation to give spoilers. Although there’s an overall story arc, mainly this is vignettes from roughly two decades in these men’s lives. There’s beauty and pain and love and friendship, and there’s no shying away from the realities of their experiences. Through it all, though, there’s hope, and ultimately, the message here is positive and affirming. Come to this novel armed with tissues and an open mind; you won’t be disappointed.
For brilliant and beautiful writing, characters who became like friends, and the best kind of hopeful-ever-after ending, this gets 10/10 fountain pens.
About the Author
Bronx-born wordsmith Larry Benjamin is the author of the allegorical novella Vampire Rising, and Unbroken, a gay novel, which is a 2014 Lambda Literary finalist and a 2014 IPPY Gold Medalist. His second book, Damaged Angels, a collection of short stories was a 2013 Rainbow Award Runner-Up in the Best Gay Contemporary General Fiction category. His debut novel, What Binds Us, was published by Carina Press in March 2012.
Larry considers himself less a writer than a wordsmith—an artist whose chosen medium is the written word rather than clay or paint or bronze.
He is a writer of stories whose characters are determined to find their place in the world; if they cannot find a place, they make a place. Even when their lives aren’t perfect, it’s never because they’re gay but because they’re human. And like all humans they often suffer the consequences of ego and bad judgment.
He lives in Philadelphia with his husband and their two rescued dogs.