Afflicted by Brandon Shire
Today, I’m going to be adding a slightly new lean on my site by adding book reviews to my efforts around here. I had the good fortune to read Brandon Shire’s “Afflicted“, his third effort so far having already published “Listening to Dust” and “The Value of Rain”. I jumped at the chance to read this because of it’s personal appeal to me as Hunter, one of the main characters in the book is gay and blind. I’ve been in a wonderful relationship with a man for a couple of years now who is also blind, and I wanted to see how much Shire’s efforts paralleled our real life existence. Let’s get this going, shall we?
The Book: Afflicted, by Brandon Shire. $4.99 on Amazon. It’s important to note here that 10% of all Shire’s book sales are donated to LGBT youth organizations that need the help. At the book’s end he highlights two that he is supportive of GLBT Advocacy and Youth Services, Inc, and St. Lost and Found. It’s a slight book, tipping in at just 142 pages. I would have expected more given the plot, but you’ll find at the end of the book that Shire is carrying on the plot into a second novel.
- Hunter: Blind, gay, and owns a successful business creating audio books that bring indie publishing efforts to the ear. He’s unmatched in his abilities to match the voice to the character he’s after. He lives a successful business life, but his personal is missing that one man he’s after. Hunter has also spent years studying martial arts, and finds solace and contentment in the dojo.
- Margie: Hunter’s #2 in the business and also his best friend. She’s fiercely protective of Hunter, and comes across as a mix of intently loyal, someone who you’d want guarding your back in an alley fight and someone who’s got a heart of gold but will never let you willingly see it.
- Dillon: The male prostitute who picks up Hunter on the street. Dillon came out to his religious parents as a kid, and was summarily tossed on to the street. He survived by turning street tricks, and moved into a high-end escort service as a way to make a living. A life-changing event with one of his regular patrons has set him up for good, and Dillon has no need to turn tricks to survive. Dillon’s the one that I identify most with, having done exactly that: I turned tricks and did porn movies to survive, but at the time it was to pay for a very expensive drug habit.
- Lydia: Hunter’s overprotective, slightly overbearing Mom who all-too-slowly is realizing that Hunter is just fine as an adult, gay blind man who can take care of life all by himself. Lydia is a proper southern lady who very late in the book develops a relationship with a much younger man.
The Plot: After having a fight with Margie, Hunter bails on her ride home and meets Dillon (who identifies himself as “Frank” to protect his anonymity). After both the guys make their intentions known it’s back to Hunter’s apartment to do the dirty. The sex in the book is very descriptive and erotic, and make to mistake: this is not a book you’ll want to leave around on your e-reader if you have kids. (there’s a adults-only disclaimer in front of the book)
Both our heroes realize over time that this wasn’t just a paid trick, and they ‘re both starting to get into each other’s hearts despite their differences. Dillon doesn’t see Hunter as handicapped and treats him just like any other guy, and that’s a standout plot point for me. Too often in the gay community, those that are disabled are considered “less than” and Shire doesn’t go there in the slightest. Hunter is very open with his life and wants, and Dillon is just the opposite. He doesn’t share with Hunter the things that he needs to, and that provides a source of conflict toward the end of the book.
Margie flips her ever-lovin’ mind that Hunter picked up a prostitute, and is even more annoyed and apprehensive that Hunter is pursuing a relationship with him. She realizes that all her bluster aside, Hunter is going to pursue this and grudgingly gives her blessing after Dillon reveals to her that he’s quite a catch and not some run-of-the-mill street walker who’s going to take advantage of Hunter.
Hunter’s mom Lydia meets Dillon briefly toward the end of the book, and has no idea about his background. She does bring a bit of emotional trauma to the table for Dillon that sends him running, so as of this book that plot point is not resolved at all.
Do Hunter and Dillon fall in love? I’m not about to spoil that for you; go buy the book and see for yourself.
What I liked: Shire is a great writer, drawing you into the life of Hunter and Dillon with their wants, desires and what’s missing. The sexual encounters in the book are very descriptive and erotic, and I’d be a total liar if I told you that they didn’t make me rock hard. On the flip side of the sex, Shire draws you right back into the emotional lives of the guys to round out their development so Afflicted is FAR from being a dimestore, pulp, gay erotic story. He makes you want to see where the story is going, and I eagerly flipped the page.
What I would have liked to see: I promised Shire that I’d give this book an honest review so here goes…
More descriptive content: Shire is great in moving the book forward in the plot, but left me wanting more in terms of what the characters looked like physically. Both Hunter and Dillon are physically attractive men, but what do they look like? I don’t know and as a reader this is important for me (and probably a solo opinion). To really paint that mental image for me, I need the detail. Shire does a great job of describing The Rat Hole, Hunter’s favorite hangout restaurant and the mouthy waitress who takes care of him, but as to our main characters this was missing for me. I’d also like to have known more about Margie, Hunter’s best friend. Her character really wasn’t rounded out, so much as she’s just there. She’s important in Hunter’s life and I think how their relationship came into being is important as well.
Hunter’s accessibility and mobility: Shire portrays Hunter as just as able bodied as you and I, and that’s fantastic because by and large it’s true. There isn’t much in life that my partner couldn’t do if he set his mind to it. Being blind is not a life hurdle, it just is. Jus the same, there are some adjustments that have to be made in accessing things as well as getting around and living as a sighted person would, and I’d like to see Hunter experience some of this in the second book to make the reader realize that being blind isn’t a disability, it’s just a different way of life that will occasionally provide a challenge that has to be mastered.
The sex: Hunter and Dillon have a very active and erotic sex life, and Shire adds that to the book without it being a gratuitous time-for-a-hardon plot point. But they also head straight to barebacking very quickly and while that’s easily reality based in this day and age, so is having a conversation with your partner about HIV and risks. Make no mistake, Hunter and Dillon’s encounters would have gone under the bus quickly if they stopped ravaging each other to have the HIV talk, but just the same they don’t have the chat anywhere at all in the plot either and that’s hard for me not to speak on as an HIV/AIDS activist.
Should you buy the book? Yep, you betcha.
Overall grade? B+. I’m very much looking forward to see where Shire takes our heroes in book two.