Once again, Ben Monopoli has captured a slice of life and parsed it into a stunning character study of a young man, not so much in transition, but rather suspended between past and present.
The young are assured that their years in college are for finding yourself, for exploring and taking risks. It’s a stage of life with an end point that promises rich beginnings and a path forward. What they don’t tell you is that it can be a time of confusion and fear and a microcosm for ‘is that all there is?’ Some leave college and fulfill the promise, others… not so much.
Vince Dandro has logged off as a work in progress, but that progress is measured by a sameness that he can’t overcome and a hesitation to move beyond a crush that still consumes him. When the object of that crush arrives unbidden, in a blizzard, Vince is thrust into a situation that threatens his sense of complacency and closure.
Complicating Vince’s life is that he’s bi-sexual. In his eyes, he is open to all possibilities. The reality, however, is quite different.
Griff is the crush, the object of obsession trapping Vince in emotional amber. Griff was the lifebuddy who was more than a college roomie—he was Vince’s best friend, his touchstone and his heart’s desire. Griff is the metric by which Vince will measure everything and everyone, and although he hasn’t seen the man in years, it takes only an instant to reignite feelings he thought he had buried.
Masterfully toggling between past and present, the author guides us until we see and slowly come to grips with Vince’s stalled evolution, of the choices he made for good or ill, and the impact those choices left on his life and those around him. For Vince, the past insinuates every pore of his being. He is who he was and who he will be.
Griff wears the mantle of the still impulsive, self-possessed young man who never quite grew beyond the confines of “peaked in college” (ala the Rob Lowe commercials). He’s failed at a relationship, hit the jackpot financially, and wanders aimlessly until he alights on Vince’s doorstep in what seems to be a random act but isn’t. Unlike Vince, Griff’s past is still undiscovered country. Unwrapping it and putting it into perspective becomes the new glue binding the two young men together.
The story’s main timeframe is a week, but the emotional journey for all the characters involved is an eternity of discovery. To a man, they are outrageous, charming, silly, boyish, comical, heartbreakers and heart-takers, and you cannot help rooting for each and every one. They relive the fantasy of going home to a time and place that mattered in ways hard to describe. And on the way, what they find is far less and so much more than what they hoped for.
The writing is superb. The characters are drawn with depth and respect such that we can easily identify with them, believe in them, and love them for the unique souls they are.
Growing up ain’t for the weak of heart, or of mind. Ben Monopoli doesn’t make it easy, but he does make it honest, and that is a rare talent indeed.
The Cranberry Hush is another one of my highly recommended reads.
Vince Dandro might be going through the quietest quarter-life crisis of all time. He lives alone, works at a comic book shop, and has a crush on his coworker he can’t seem to act on. His life is just fine, but only just fine. Everything changes when Vince’s long-lost friend Griff shows up at his house in the middle of a blizzard. They were roommates in college, so close back then that Griff’s girlfriend called them “lifebuddies” — but Vince’s love for Griff ended the friendship, he thought, forever. They haven’t spoken in years. Why has Griff shown up again? And, more importantly, can Vince handle his return?
Vince and Griff are two twentysomethings struggling to find their places in the world and in each other’s lives. This is a story of friendship and love, both unrequited and requited, and learning how to fly through the post-college void, where sometimes the only sound you can hear is The Cranberry Hush.