Author: Ben Patrick Johnson
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Release: 24th August 2015
Genre: M/M (contemporary)
Inspired by true events, Splinters is an American family tragedy infused with love and hope.
After witnessing a horrific murder by their own mother in rural West Virginia, brilliant young Gerald and his baby sister Stephanie become orphans and find very different fates. Stephanie is quickly adopted, while Gerald languishes in a series of schools for boys. Eventually Gerald joins the Army and is recruited for intelligence work in a secret facility, where he becomes addicted to stimulants. When he gets thrown out of the Army for sexual impropriety, Gerald makes his way to Los Angeles, where he finds work as a go-go dancer and meets Aziah.
Young, gay, and Black, Aziah identifies with Gerald’s loneliness and difficulty fitting in. The two fall in love. Then Gerald’s addiction and the ghosts of his past begin to surface, and he vanishes. When Stephanie shows up in Los Angeles, she and Aziah must confront the question of whether Gerald is so far gone that he can’t recover.
This book is based on a true story, or at least that is the information we are given. Due to this fact then I guess it isn’t a true fictional romance either. real life is usually harder and not as schmaltzy as some of the novels I usually read. So no skipping off into a wonderful HEA but one with a realistic outcome. I got the feeling that it is also somewhat autobiographical in style from the narration, at least that’s the way it read for me personally. Like reading someone’s diary or memoirs. I really liked this aspect a lot as you get to see, feel and experience what Aziah is going through.
Aziah is black, lives in Los Angeles and works for a company that stages house sales. I loved Aziah, he is no high flyer, just your honest kind of guy, doing a honest days work for a moderate wage and is satisfied with his life. Maybe not the brightest spark in the world academically after never being given the chance, but the kind of guy who has a huge heart, a distinct sense of justice, someone who just wants to love and be loved. All he wants is to find the one person to settle down with.
Well, one evening in his gym where he goes to work out he gets picked up by a mysterious stranger, who at least gives him his name, Gerald, and they end up going back to Aziah’s. All I can say is that these two must have been horny and desperate, because for me this was the quickest pick up in the world. But what follows after they are lying on the floor in Aziah’s flat in post-coital bliss Aziah would never have guessed in million years. Gerald opens up to Aziah and tells him of his childhood.
No child should experience what Gerald and his sister experienced as children. It was horrific, especially if as stated this is based on a true story. However, for me to be really emotionally invested by this, which I’m sure I would have been, it just happened all too quickly and too soon in the story. It was like out there before you even had a chance to weigh up what this Gerald guy is all about. But Aziah seems to be head over heels, although he does try to rationalise it at first as a one night stand.
Well, Gerald starts to become more than a casual one off and Aziah’s feelings start to deepen way beyond anything that he had anticipated. Gerald is also deeply invested emotionally in Azaiah too. Aziah tries not to appear to be to clingy but in my opinion the clingy tendencies were definitely there. But even after all this you somehow get the feeling that the relationship between these two is somewhat off kilter. Gerald comes and goes, disappears for days and then turns up as he likes. Aziah on the other hand starts to obsess a little at where Gerald is or what he is doing. Well, to be honest if you are falling in love for someone then you care for them. So for me worrying about where your boyfriend is when he just takes off without a trace, doesn’t answer messages or calls, I think this is pretty normal. Maybe a little too early in the relationship for Aziah to completely freak out, but understandable. But when Gerald moves in with Aziah and does another disappearing act than this would drive me nuts too. I know I wouldn’t put up wth this kind of behaviour for sure. I know he tries to keep the mantra, “with love, anything is possible!” and this is quite admirable but will it be enough. Aziah in my opinion must have had it bad combined the patience of a saint.
Aziah obviously is affected by his childhood with his father walking out on his mother which may answer for some of the clinginess, but Gerald didn’t make things easy for him. Gerald opens up and tells him his whole story, from his days in the army right through to the current day where his sister has now written to him after not hearing from her for years. However, we discover that Gerald has more serious problems, and that is one of drug addiction, crystal meth to be precise, which accounts for most of his rash behaviour.
So maybe I’m a little cynical here but if someone has been lying to me about using then I would start to wonder about whether or not everything that they told me before is also true or not. Well, this is where Aziah and his “big ol’ heart” comes into play I guess. He is besotted with Gerald and I must admit the guy is pretty cool when he has a clear head, so I guess patience and understanding is a virtue and Aziah seems to have this in abundance, even though he drives himself nuts in the process. Especially sitting around waiting for Gerald to show after not knowing where he is. I know I would have drawn a line and told Gerald to sling his hook a lot earlier just out of a dire need of self-preservation. Obviously, Aziah is made of better stuff
This for me is a story of broken characters, alone they are extremely vulnerable but together they have the potential to be something a lot more. More than the sum of its parts. It is a story about addiction and coping with its side effects as a user and also as a partner grappling with its perturbing effects on a relationship. This story shows how to be understanding, patient and passionate. It shows us how with love and support we can all be a lot stronger. Even this happens in real life too.
This story is raw, nothing is powdered over for the sake of making it a Harlequin / Mill & Boon style romance. There is no skipping off into a bright and rosy sunset. The have found their HFN, but the book ends where you could say that hard work now really begins for them all. This trio, this little band of three; Aziah, Gerald, Gerald’s sister Stephanie have a long way to go to find their ultimate happiness. Life is hard, life is not fair, but I feel these three together will be strong and will be able make a brighter and happier future for themselves. Will there be a continuation? I have no idea but I would definitely read a second book to find out where their journey takes them.
Meet Ben Patrick Johnson
Ben Patrick Johnson began writing at the age of five. His first essays were printed on a mimeograph machine in a church basement in St. Paul, MN and performed for his parents and whichever neighbor children he could get to sit still and listen for a few minutes. Johnson went on to pursue a career in media (after barely finishing high school) and fooled enough people in the business that, at 22, he was named Director of Production for ABC Talkradio in Los Angeles. In 1994, a difficult year as a correspondent for the TV show EXTRA cured him of any further ambitions in entertainment journalism.
Following EXTRA, Johnson self-soothed by eating lots of sheet cake late at night, sometimes in supermarket parking lots. He became a full time voice-over actor and started writing more seriously. Today, he has five novels to his credit and is the leading trailer and promo voice in Hollywood. Concurrently, Johnson has emerged as a noted social media LGBT and Human Rights activist with 300,000 followers on Twitter and Facebook. He lives with his husband Mariano and arguably too many pets on a hillside overlooking Los Angeles.
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