Look Away Silence is the story of Martin Powers who works at the men's wear counter of a large New Jersey department store. He's a bit frivolous and flighty, changing lovers not lightly but regularly. Then he meets Matthew, a Texan who steals his heart when he agrees to buy the ugliest and most expensive tie in the store as a Christmas gift. But for Martin, the real gift is Matthew.
They build a circle of friends and a life filled with friends, travel, and happiness. Written with acerbic, rather raunchy wit, the novel has a wonderful cast of varied supporting characters from Matthew's tough but loving parents, to lesbian friends, to Russ whose lightheartedness turns to bitterness. Their romance is sweet, but from the first, there are signs of trouble as Matthew grieves for his lover who died--apparently from a gay bashing. However, the problems go deeper than a dead lover, and Martin has to deal with Matthew's dishonesty and his own very real fears for himself.
What makes this book special isn't so much the plot as the love between Martin and Matthew and between the two of them and their respective families and friends. This love grows and changes over time as they work their way through joy and even more pain and eventually to the theme of the novel: that love is a not a Christmas gift wrapped in striped paper and a bow, but a journey of self-discovery and the courage to face loss.
I could not put the book down until I finished it. Yes, it made me cry which is something that I can say about few novels.
I recommend it highly.
Martin Powers meets Matt, a shy blue-eyed cowboy on Christmas eve and although Martin expects the relationship to barely last to New Year's, it turns into a permanent partnership. Their happiness in each other create a small bubble around their love and world that is all too soon popped when the horrible specter of Matt's dead lover and the crisis of AIDS invades their world. All of a sudden Martin is confronted with issues and problems he has never imagined and struggles with the intense emotions that come along.
The book is divided into four parts. The first depicts how Martin and Matt meet and the first year and a half of their relationship followed by the second part dealing with the AIDS crisis and how it becomes personal and affects their happy world. The third part covers Martin and Matt as they cope with illness and the intense emotions that impact both men and their friends and family. The final fourth part is an epilogue. Each of these is moving and intense as the story is told in first person narrative from Martin's point of view. The writing is instantly engaging and engrossing as Martin's character is likable and relatable. The pacing is well done and the book is incredibly easy to read, even for all the intense emotion elicited.
There are numerous technical errors in the writing unfortunately. The names Martin and Matt are confused several times and punctuation is sometimes misplaced or dropped. There are also a few misspelled words and misused words. These are noticeable and sometimes distracting but don't take away from the emotional connection and impact of the story, which for me is the best part. The choice of first person narrator makes the story intimate and engrossing, as the reader is able to connect with Martin through his humor, whimsy, fears, and later strength. Although this leaves the other characters with less of a well defined characterization, most notably in Matt, Martin is a strong and sympathetic voice.
Martin is a wonderful character as he is first introduced through his love of laundry and cleaning attachments through his surprising affection and love for a small, blue eyed cowboy that loves snow. Martin's maturity, humor and intelligence are at odds with his young age, only twenty years old. Martin is not perfect and struggles through the story with his jealousy, fears, manipulation, and selfishness. His dysfunctional childhood has changed the way he views relationships and although he can look back on his faults, he makes numerous mistakes. However, for all his faults he truly and deeply loves Matt and that love is returned, creating the first solid and meaningful relationship young Martin has ever had. As Martin matures and finds strength and courage where he fears none exist, it's easy to forget that he is only twenty three by the end of the story, and Matt was only twenty five. These are incredibly young men who should have been able to grow old together but instead live a full, loving life as best they can.
Woven into the romance between the men are multiple themes about the gay community and the impact AIDS has upon the country and various individuals. Several couples from past works by the author make brief cameos in this story, although the focus never waivers from Martin and Matt. Martin slowly becomes aware and involved in activism and a support group for AIDS caregivers and patients. There are several brief but moving stories told from strangers as they deal with the impact this devastating epidemic had at that time. The supporting characters from both families, their friends, and the perfect stranger all give context and help both men understand the far reaching impact beyond their tragedy. Along side are the realistic concerns about money, insurance, hospital bills, drug costs, jobs, and the reality that life almost stops to care for someone debilitated with AIDS. Although this is fiction, it easily is a depiction of so many couples.
This is certainly not an easy book but undeniable emotionally masterful. The depth of the characters and their story is an important tale that transcends gender and race, highlighting a time that had and continues to have devastating effects. The title is so appropriate and fitting to the characters and the topics, even if I hate the cover. Be sure to have some tissues handy as Martin's story is sure to move you to tears numerous times while also giving laughter, love, joy, and happiness beside the sorrow. This is one story that will resonate for a very long after the incredibly beautiful final page.