Author ~ Lynn Charles
Publisher ~ Interlude Press
Published ~ 7th April 2016
Genre ~ Contemporary M/M Romance
No matter how busy he keeps himself, successful Broadway musician Tobias Spence can’t outrun the memory of a tragic car crash from his past that claimed a friend’s life and permanently injured his former boyfriend, Emmett.
Even after losing Tobias, Emmett Henderson made peace with that awful night, living in his Indiana hometown where he has become a revered choral director. When his students are asked to perform in New York City, he decides to chance reconnecting with his former love, if for no other reason than to get a proper goodbye.
When Emmett and Tobias finally meet 15 years after parting ways, it is clear to both of them that their feelings for each other have not changed. As they explore their renewed relationship, the two men face old hurts and the new challenges of a long-distance romance. Will Tobias lose his second chance at love to the ghosts he can’t seem to put to rest?
“Black Dust” is an exquisite book. I’m new to its author, Lynn Charles, but that’s not a big surprise since this appears to be only her second published novel. What is surprising is the author’s masterful writing, the subtleties of her metaphors and the three-dimensional depth of her characters.
This book is the story of two boys and music. Toby and Emmett fell in love, as young men, the first time they saw each other at a regional theater audition in rural Indiana. Toby is an accomplished pianist and sometime composer. Emmett has a voice to move the gods, with more raw talent and confidence than any artist his age has a right to. Together, they made music.
Emmett is in his senior year in high school and Toby is about to join him at his Senior Prom. We all know that Indiana is not exactly the most tolerant and accepting location for gay people, but their families seem comfortable with their relationship. Still, they both can’t wait to leave. Upon graduation, they’re headed to New York to make their mark on the Broadway stage. That is, until a life-changing tragedy ends their plans and, eventually, the relationship that seemed destined to last forever.
Fifteen years later, “Black Dust” picks up with Toby in New York. He went there, and made a mark, but not the one he was expecting. He’s a freelance conductor, director, coach and accompanist for a long string of gigs in jazz clubs, regional theaters and off-Broadway musicals. None of them are all that successful. But he does get excellent reviews for the music, even when the plays that surround it get panned, fold quickly, or are nothing more than third-rate amateur efforts. He keeps busy and makes a pretty good living. But like everything in his life, it’s without commitment. He mostly lives out of a suitcase, traveling from city-to-city and state-to-state for brief engagements, never putting down roots. He meets attractive men and beds them, but he brings the same lack of commitment to his personal relationships that he does to his career.
Emmett didn’t fare much better, at least at first. He didn’t handle the tragedy very well, burying his pain in the bottle and a series of unsatisfying relationships and one-night-stands. But Emmett is doing better than Toby. After a couple of years of self-destructive behavior, he settles down to become a music teacher, a beloved and respected choir director whose students win many competitions and awards, more than any small-town school choir should be expected to. His program is the envy of the state, and beyond. He’s got a lovely home, a job he loves, but he’s still very much alone.
Everything changes one day, when, out of the blue, Emmett calls Toby to tell him he’s bringing his choir to a competition in New York and he’d like to touch base. Toby is both ecstatic and terrified. They haven’t seen each other or talked in fifteen years, and it was Toby who ran away. It wasn’t entirely his fault, since Emmett had been pushing him away more and more, day by day, before Toby finally gave up and ran.
Ms. Charles takes us on a remarkable journey. These two men were meant for each other. They’re not that alike, aside from their love of music and each other, but they fulfill and complement one another in so many ways. Alone, they’re incomplete and somehow broken. Fifteen years later, they’re still mourning what they once had. Emmett hopes to get closure from this final visit. Toby doesn’t dare hope for much of anything, but desperately needs to see Emmett again.
“Black Dust” is a beautiful exploration of what happens when two men who love each other are torn apart by a terrible tragedy – but more important, by failing to deal with it, letting it fester for a decade-and-a-half. Emmett has pretty much come to grips with it. Toby is still running - running all the time. He’s terrified that if he stops, he will have to face what he’s desperately trying to lock away from the light of day.
Ms. Charles parallels their desperate attempt to rebuild what they once had with a musical composition that Toby started writing the first time he heard Emmett sing. For fifteen years, he’s been building this… cantata, orchestral piece, opera, Broadway show? It’s the story of him and Emmett in music. But he always hits a brick wall. The early parts of the piece are gorgeous, evocative and powerful. He’s got several serviceable endings, but between the intro and the ending, he’s blocked. He can’t write a note worth keeping. He’s been so wrapped up in denial and running that he can’t even see that it’s the tragedy that’s blocking him. If he can’t get through that, if he can’t deal with that, he’s never going to get any further. The same is true of rebuilding his relationship with his beloved Emmett.
This is a subtle story, a different story. Ms. Charles doesn’t tell, she shows, and she shows it with raw emotions that are difficult to watch and even more difficult to turn away from. Toby can’t stop running. Emmett can’t deal with losing Toby over and over again – it’s like ripping a scab off a wound that never heals. There’s both heartrending and beautiful truth in how these two characters react and interact. Their badinage, their discussions of television, food and pop culture is sarcastic, funny and intimate. Their sex is incredibly hot, not for the acts, but for the passion they only experience with each other.
These are great characters, authentic characters, characters who will tug at your heartstrings without artifice or manipulation. Ms. Charles is an amazing writer. When I first started the book, I admit to having been just a bit wary. I kept thinking “oh, another coming-of-age high school story” because the dialogue between the main characters and their unrealistic dreams seemed very “young adult”. But that’s because of the subtlety of Ms. Charles’ writing. The portrayals, thoughts, dialogue and the depth of her descriptions change perceptibly as the boys become young men, somewhat jaded, but still recognizable as the innocent boys whose lives were torn apart in the first chapter. There’s lots of interesting secondary characters, but none as important as the third major character that really drives the narrative - the music itself. Ms. Charles gives the music the same beauty and evocative power as she does her main characters. It’s obvious, from her eloquent descriptions that she herself was a musician and knows exactly whereof she writes, and does so brilliantly.
If you’re looking for an evocative love story, tinged with tragedy and redemption, driven by music and passion and written with consummate skill, you won’t want to miss “Black Dust”.