In his Eyes is so beautifully crafted, it feels almost too fragile to read
Larry Benjamin’s What Binds Us, his award-winning time piece once inspired one of my novels. I was curious to read In his Eyes, particularly as I’d seen some reviews online which were puzzling. Larry calls himself a wordsmith, and I have no reason to doubt his assessment. Yet somehow, I wonder if the word is accurate. When I picture a -smith of anything, I see fire, I see an anvil, hammers and coarse tools. Larry’s tools most certainly include the fire of this passion for writing, but his writing reminds me more of calligraphy than forging a tool. Not sure that makes sense.
In his Eyes is the story of four young men who meet in college many years ago. I tried early to set the stage in terms of timing and I guess it begins in the seventies and ends in 2005. Four men who meet, form two couples, break up, meet others, yet through the years, their lives’ paths keep crossing, again and again. No spoilers. The way the novel is constructed is like a collage of little vignettes, small portraits, glimpses into the lives of the four protagonists and the people they meet. We have a narrator, but we also often get to see things from the individual points of view. In a way, the novel feels like a puzzle, where you as reader are challenged to add the various pieces to each other, to get to the final end result. What that result turns out as, I believe, is entirely up to each and everyone of us.
It’s taken me days to read this story. Larry’s writing is carefully crafted, and not as fluent as someone who writes more subconsciously. Which makes reading an effort, and in order to really enjoy and enjoy it, one needs to pace oneself. You need to take it slow, be shielded from outside interruptions or disruptions. I tried to read on my way to town or as my family was watching TV, but failed. Finally, last night, with my husband focused on his work, I was able to read in peace and quiet. It’s like listening to a piece of classical music. You have to focus, but you’ll be rewarded for your attention.
I can’t say I “liked” the plot of the story, because it is dark and belongs to a time I hope remains in the past, most certainly for us in the West. I know that for large parts of the world, this may still look like a bright future… It highlights not only the plight of black gay men in the United States, interracial relationships and their challenges, re “snow queen”, but also the darkness of our existence in a society from pre-AIDS where being gay was still largely frowned upon. Larry is the storyteller of that era, and he does it amazing justice. I usually try to avoid those times, because they are, by and large, quite depressing for our people, with so much misery and sadness. Larry showcases not only that misery, that loneliness, even when in company with others, society’s brutal judgement, but also the small progress, intimacy and how love can take so many different shapes. In Larry, that time is brought to light, and even though I hope we may never have to see such days again, it is still valuable to have that time period accurately reflected and brought to light, as undoubtedly many of our young who grow up under more hopeful circumstances may not even be aware of our recent history. For those of us who witnessed it, it’s slightly different, painful reminders of a recent past, of things we have lived through and endured ourselves.
In his Eyes is a beautiful story. Not an easy read, but a true work of art. If you like to read meticulously crafted books, and you have the time to really let go and focus on a slow read, I highly recommend you to take a journey into the past and re-live (or experience for the first time) what things were like for gay men in the past four or five decades. Well done, Larry, very well done.
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Hans M Hirschi