Title: After Ben
Author: Con Riley
Buy link: Amazon.com (Second Edition)
Genre: Contemporary M/M
Length: Novel (300 pages)
Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5
A Guest Review by jeayci
Review Summary: A moving, amusing, triumphant story of surviving great loss and learning to live and love again.
Blurb: A Seattle Stories novel
A year after the sudden death of his longtime partner, Ben, Theo Anderson is still grieving. The last thing he’s looking for is a new lover. But as Theo soon discovers, sometimes life has other plans.
While Theo experiences a powerful physical attraction to fellow gym member Peter, it’s his new online friend, Morgan, who provides the intellectual challenge to make him come alive. Morgan is witty, brave, and irreverent, and Theo is ready to take the plunge… until he discovers Morgan might be half his age.
Theo’s late partner was significantly older—enough to strain Theo’s relationship with his family—and the potential of another relationship being cut short leaves him gunshy. Theo needs to lay Ben’s memory to rest, reconcile with his family, and rekindle neglected friendships if he’s to start afresh with a new lover. But Theo isn’t the only one with a past.
His biggest challenge, in living after Ben, might not be his to face.
Review: This is a wonderful story of learning to live and love again after great loss, of coming back alive. It’s all about making progress, and in fact I’d go so far as to say “making progress” was Theo’s theme or mantra. He’d been so numb for so long, going through the motions without realizing how absent he really was, and this is the story of his re-awakening. When a numb arm or leg wakes up, we experience painful tingles for a while, and much of this story is Theo experiencing those tingles as he realizes he’s been asleep and is now waking up.
Theo had fifteen wonderful years with Ben, but now Theo has to figure out how to go on with his own life after Ben is gone. I found his grief and recovery process very believable and sympathetic. Although Ben is dead before the story starts, we get a real sense of him from Theo’s memories. I thought the past was beautifully woven into the present, giving the reader a real sense of what happened and what Theo’s life was like before compared to now, without any actual flashbacks. Reading the blurb, I’d thought Theo’s insistence on avoiding another age gap was ridiculous, but as I got to know him better I felt like I could understand where he was coming from. I still thought it was ridiculous, as did characters who didn’t hesitate to point it out to him, but it made sense for him in context.
Speaking of those characters, this story was chock full of wonderful secondary characters. Ben’s assistant Maggie was clearly his lifeline for a long time. The office interns, with their own romance, provided both humor and insight. I didn’t really understand Theo’s parents at first, but eventually got to know them well enough to understand and appreciate them. Although we didn’t see much of them, I loved Ben’s mother and his younger brother, Marco. I’m hoping we’ll see more of them in a sequel, as there was clear potential for Marco to be gay. Marco was wonderfully perceptive and played a key role in making the HEA for this story possible.
I loved Peter from the moment we met him, and ached for him because it was pretty clear that Theo wasn’t going to fall in love with him. I really, really wanted Peter to get a HEA, and I’m delighted to see that he will in the next book (which comes out tomorrow!). I’m glad to see that Aiden gets his own story after that. Although he was a very minor character in this book, he was an intriguing one I’m looking forward to getting to know better.
I loved that Theo and Morgan didn’t fall in love right away, because there’s no way Theo was ready at the beginning of the book. They developed a solid online relationship, one that helped them both through tough times as they challenged each other intellectually and gradually developed more emotional closeness. Knowing each other online first both helped and hindered the relationship when they finally met in person, and I appreciated how that was depicted. I liked Morgan right away and admired him in many ways, but I didn’t like his attitude that he knew better than Theo what was best for him. Even if it was true, I found his frequent statements about it obnoxious.
I thought Theo was surprisingly obtuse when it came to Morgan’s past and reasons for being at the shelter in the first place. I finally concluded that it’s pretty human to see what we want, even if evidence to the contrary is right in front of us in blinking neon. That’s all the more believable considering how out of it Theo had been for so long, so I was finally able to let it go and move on, but it frustrated me for a while. I also really would have liked to get to know Morgan better and know more of his backstory.
But despite those niggles, this was a magnificent story about rejoining the world after devastating loss. It was romantic, and it had a HEA, but it wasn’t exactly a romance; at least, not a light and fluffy one. Highly recommended, and I’m very much looking forward to the sequel.