Brace yourselves kids because this is a LONG ONE…The Return, Brad Boney’s sophomore effort complete with an extended visit with all the guys we got to know and love in his first book The Nothingness of Ben is completely brilliant, a fun, unique book with some heavy themes and strong writing, but even more than that it’s a beautiful and hopeful tribute/eulogy to the men who died and survived the AIDS epidemic, it’s an amazing lesson in music and it’s trascendence, it’s an optismistic and crafty story about the power of love and friendship. Yep, I loved this book.
I’m going to just start by saying that this book had me at Hello. I mean it was maybe at 3% that the Love Fest for Bruce Springsteen began and I was a GONER. Bruce Springsteen...SIGHS…I am a FAN, like stone cold, die hard, rabid FAN. One of the best nights of my life was seeing Springsteen in New York City in October of 2003. I get chills just remembering how magical that night was. The thing is, Thunder Road, it’s my Battle Song. When I moved to New York City from Dominican Republic in 2002 (my homeland) for graduate school, Thunder Road was the only thing I listened to on the plane. It’s my BATTLE SONG. So with the Bruce Love, Brad went straight for my soul.
I loved Stanton, and Topher and Chris and all the men in this book for their reverence to Springsteen and music and what it meant for them, how it bound them…and I LOVED Brad Boney for writing this story…but I digress. On to the review…
First things first…The booze…Of course I could not just whimp out on Brad Boney and the amazing men he gave me in this book, so I didn’t just try one wine, nope I tried TWO. The boys in The Return get to try an amazing bottle of French wine in the book, so I wanted to stick with the theme. The two wines I tried were a 2012 Eclat du Rhône a Rosè from the Rhône Valley and a 2012 Grange Des Dames from the Ventoux Valley, both of these wines are less than $10 a bottle and are delicious summer wines. The Eclat is made with Grenache grapes, its a bit light and has a just a bit of a fruity kick that is really delicious. The Grange des Dames with a Granache, Syrah and Mouvedre blend is a bit more crisp and a bit grassy, but still very nice well chilled. In the end either of these two wines would go PERFECTLY with the recipe I came up with for The Return. The book is set (partly) in Austin, so I went with that for the food pairing. I love Austin, particularly the amazing food trucks all over town, so I got my creative juices FLOWING and came up with the “Southwest by Northeast Vegan “Food Truck Style” Tacos with a Tequila Lime Slaw, and Sweet and Smoky Guacamole”…I know, I know it’s a mouthful! But they are insanely delicious and the guacamole?? You’ll want to name your future babies after me once you taste it. I am pretty happy with myself for this one, and hope I did this book justice with the food and wine I paired it with.
Now the story (I promise the song quotes are necessary, so bear with me :))… In reality, this book is four stories that kind of combine into one. We have two love stories, and two stories of powerful enduring friendship, all over one lifetime. The story of Today, Stanton and Topher and their best friends. The story of Yesterday, Stanton and Chris and their best friends.
Topher Manning is a musician (mechanic by day) who can’t get his songs out of his head, and into the world, he loves what he does and he loves his bandmates though. His bandmates and very best friends, Robin, Maurice, and Pete, with whom he left his hometown of Dime Box, Texas and came to Austin with to pursue their dream. Time is passing though and they’re going to need something spectacular to happen soon, he is going to have to unlock those songs from his head somehow or their band just won’t make it…
I give you a song and open a door
And from the shadows you come through
I give you a song at dawn
When I most need your light…
…I give you a song like a gunshot
Like a book, like a word, like a guerrilla:
Like I give love.
-Silvio Rodriguez, Te Doy una Cancion
The extraordinary thing Topher needs one day literally walks into the auto shop he works in and his name is Stanton Porter. Stanton Porter the legendary music critic for NPR. Stanton is in town to cover the South by Southwest music festival and the car he borrowed has died before he got to pick up tickets he needs to get into the Springsteen concert that evening. Since the guy is in a jam and none to happy, Topher offers to drive Stanton to get the tickets. Fast forward to Stanton asking Topher to come to the show with him as a thank you. Best frigging day of Topher’s life! I mean SPRINGSTEEN, with Stanton Porter who he completely admires, and for some reason finds incredibly hot (even though he’s straight and Stanton is waaaaay older), if only his phone would stop buzzing in his pocket (for no reason! What the hell?!) the night would be pretty much be perfect and then…Then the opening notes to Thunder Road begin, and Topher is taken over by this feeling, this BIG feeling, like nothing he’s felt before, and the only thing he can do is kiss Stanton…Wait what?!…THAT’S when EVERYTHING gets a whole lot more interesting.
I’ll work for your love dear
I’ll work for your love
What others may want for free
I’ll work for your love
-Bruce Springsteen, I’ll Work For Your Love
Topher throws Stanton for a loop, he doesn’t know what to think when this 26 year old hot as hell kid, just comes on STRONG. Stanton has not done this in awhile, he’s fifty years old for goodness sake, he doesn’t know how to do “in love” anymore. He lost the love of his life long ago, and his heart never got up to trying again. But Topher he’s bringing those feelings back and Stanton’s scared. He’s scared of getting hurt, he’s scared of looking ridiculous triying to date a younger man, he’s scared of the weird signs everywhere, he’s just plain scared. But Topher is TENACIOUS and PERSISTENT, he’s only ever wanted two things this badly, and with this much clarity in his life, being a musician and Stanton. He’s going to do whatever it takes to convince this man that when something feels this RIGHT, not age, not distance, not anything should keep two people from love. He’s got faith enough for both of them.
Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night
-Bruce Springsteen, Thunder Road
Brad Boney wove two tales in this book that are intertwined in Stanton and his best friend Marvin. In the 1980’s Stanton and Marvin while spending a weekend in Fire Island met Chris (Hutch) Mead and his three best friends, Michael, Robert and Paul. From the moment Stanton and Chris looked at each other, they were one. Chris and Stanton fell hard and strong. Chris and his friends took Marvin and Stanton into their fold, they started a friendship that could never be broken. That first summer of youth, freedom and forging bonds that revolved around a common ground, passion for music and living openly was just the beginning. Life could not get better, Stanton and Chris were in love, deeply , completely, and their friends were there to share their lives, and for a few years “they had roses” and then things fell apart.
Mary you’re covered in roses, you’re covered in ruin
you’re covered in secrets
Your’e covered in treetops, you’re covered in birds
who can sing a million songs without any words
You cast aside the sheets, you cast aside the shroud
of another man, who served the world proud
You greet another son, you lose another one
on some sunny day and always stay
-Patty Griffin, Mary
The AIDS epidemic is a history in this country that is tragic, not only for the loss of lives, it’s particularly heinous in how shameful it is to remember how people tunred their backs on what was happening. Such an awful time to live through and to remember, so many men cast aside, so many regrets from the families that turned their backs on all that hurt. Normally when an epidemic strikes it hits EVERYONE men, women, children, young, it’s where a society bands together, to fight it, as ONE. With AIDS, no one cared, they kept quiet…It was only gay men dying, and who cared about them? Who cared about thousands of men in the prime of their lives dying within months of getting sick? Who cared about men who in many cases had been outcasted from their families, left alone living in fear of dying next, of having to see the people they loved most die? Who cared right? THEY did, they who died, they who survived…And THIS is what I loved, LOVED about this book, that little shining light…What if all those lives that were gone too soon, and those love stories that were cut too short could get a another chance? What if Stanton got a second chance at love and happiness with Topher and a bit of Chris’ soul in the mix?
Tonight this fool’s halfway to heaven and just a mile outta hell
And I feel like I’m comin’ home
These are better days baby
There’s better days shining through
-Bruce Springsteen, Better Days
The premise for this book is not going to hit the spot for everyone, it’s different, and it’s not your regular Gay romance, but man if it resonates with you it is AN EXPERIENCE. To see a man’s history and his present blend so that he can have the future he lost once. So CLEVER.
Oh I get by with a little help from my friends
Mm I get high with a little help from my friends
Mm going to try with a little help from my friends
-The Beatles, With a Little Help From My Friends
Topher and Stanton, they have a bit of a rough go. There are stumbles and a lot of what happens to these men is WAAAAAY out there to take in stride. But they have their friends, the old, and the new, and the rely on them to help them navigate the strangeness of it all. They manage to come away with faith in what they have, and trusting that fate really is smiling upon them. Once they choose to see these things that are happening to them as the gifts that they are, they jump with both feet.
Stanton finally is able to look back on his past and heal the wounds he had left open for too long, and what he was left with was a full free life, with love and friends, and sex and fun and Topher…Topher…And even a bit of Chris.
Let’s fall in love again with music as our guide
We’ll raise our ready hands and let go for the ride
Down into unknown lands where lovers meet and hide
We got these lives for free, we don’t know where they’ve been
We don’t know where they’ll go when we are through with them
The starlight of the sun, the dark side of the moon
And in the air the questions hang
Will we get to do something?
Who we gonna end up being?
How we gonna end up feeling?
What you gonna spend your free life on?
-Natalie Maines, Free Life
I had a great time with this book, it was fun, sexy, sad, uplifiting, hopeful…I got to visit with some of the guys from The Nothingness of Ben which was FABULOUS…What else can I say? So much of this story resonated with me from NYC, to Springsteen, to friendships that are so good, and so right, and so big, and so solid that they are trascendental…Eternal.
Totally and completely recommend.
The Return is available for sale at Dreamspinner Press
And still there is more!!! THE FOOD!!! I do not exaggerate these tacos are frigging DELICIOUS!! I didn’t want to call myself a food genius over a taco recipe, but damn if I wasn’t tempted! Here they are…
Southwest by Northeast Vegan “Food Truck Style” Tacos with Tequila Lime Slaw, and Sweet and Smoky Guacamole (makes about 8 tacos)
Level of Difficulty: Intermediate
Time: 30-45 minutes of cooking (reserve some time to marinade tofu)
This recipe is a little labor intensive, but the outcome is TOTALLY worth it! They are absolutely delicious and the extra slaw and guacamole will go AMAZING with some tortilla chips! If you make this for guests I guarantee they won’t bitch about missing the meat or dairy we usually get in tacos. I GUARANTEE! The trick is to the prep in stages and that will simplify getting your tacos on the table.
First Stage: Rub the tofu with seasoning, roast peppers and caramelize the onions.
Second Stage: Make the slaw and guacamole
Third Stage: Sear tofu and prepare your tacos!
Fourth Stage: Pour yourself a glass of Cotes Du Rhone Rosé and enjoy your meal and lovely book!
1 package of extra firm tofu, drained, cut into ¼ inch slices and line the pieces in a plastic container that has a lid. (Try and get as much moisture out of the tofu as you can with a paper towel, without breaking it up)
1/2 teaspoon of chili powder
½ teaspoon of garlic powder
½ teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon of coriander seed
¼ teaspoon of cumin
1/8 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon of olive oil
Pinch of salt and pepper
Directions: Mix the ingredients in a small bowl and pour over tofu, close container tofu and gently move around until the tofu is covered with the marinade. Leave in the fridge to for at least two hours or overnight.
For Poblano Peppers and Caramelized Onions
2 Poblano Peppers
2 Large White Onions
1 ½ teaspoon of agave nectar
Salt and Pepper
Directions: Put the peppers in the middle rack of an oven preheated at 400F, after 10-12 minutes turn the peppers, leave them in the oven for another 8-10 minutes or until the skin is blistering and softened. Take them out, put them in a bowl, and cover with cling wrap until they are cool enough to remove the skin, seeds and veins.
Cut the onions in ¼ inch slices, put in a skillet with a bit of olive oil at medium heat loosen them so that the rings are separated, add a bit of salt and pepper to taste and the agave nectar. Stir until the onions are a bit translucent (2-3 minutes) than put the heat on low and cover. Cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally so that the onions don’t burn. Once they are a nice caramel color turn off heat and leave them too cool.
Tequila Lime Slaw
1 small cabbage chopped for slaw
1/3 cup fresh cilantro chopped very finely
1 ½ tablespoon of white tequila (I used Espolon 100% agave tequila)
2 tablespoons of olive oil
¼ teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon of brown ground mustard
1 ½ teaspoon of agave nectar
¼ teaspoon of garlic powder
¼ teaspoon of onion powder
½ teaspoon of Ancho chili powder (Optional, I used Penzey’s brand)
1 roasted Poblano pepper minced
Salt and Pepper to taste
Mix the cabbage, cilantro and Poblano pepper in a large bowl and set aside, in a small bowl mix the other ingredients and pour over cabbage mixture. Cover and refrigerate.
Smoky and Sweet Guacamole
2 ripe Hass avocados
1 caramelized onion chopped coarsely
1 Poblano pepper minced
¼ cup cilantro chopped very finely
1 clove of garlic minced
1 tablespoon of olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Mash the avocados vigorously until they are soft and have no big lumps (you can also pulse in the food processor) add the rest of the ingredients to the mixture and taste to make sure you have seasoned properly.
For the final stage, take the tofu slices and sear them on a hot and lightly oiled non-stick pan (about 1 ½ minutes on each side at medium heat), or grill them about two minutes on each side until they start to darken on the edges or getting grill marks. Once they are done you can make your tacos!!!
Warm 8 flour or corn tortillas, whatever you prefer, then put a bit of the slaw, then some onions, then a piece of your tofu and a generous dollop of the guacamole. You can top with a bit of fresh cilantro and a squeeze of lime. Enjoy with a nice VERY chilled Rosé and while reading Brad Boney’s FABULOUS story!
If you managed to make it this far into this post, all that is left to say is…
CHEERS AND HAPPY READING!