The Nothingness of Ben by Brad Boney
Blurb: Ben Walsh is well on his way to becoming one of Manhattan’s top litigators, with a gorgeous boyfriend and friends on the A-list. His life is perfect until he gets a phone call that brings it all crashing down: a car accident takes his parents, and now he must return to Austin to raise three teenage brothers he barely knows.
During the funeral, Ben meets Travis Atwood, the redneck neighbor with a huge heart. Their relationship initially runs hot and cold, from contentious to flirtatious, but when the weight of responsibility starts wearing on Ben, he turns to Travis, and the pressure shapes their friendship into something that feels a lot like love. Ben thinks he’s found a way to have his old life, his new life, and Travis too, but love isn’t always easy. Will he learn to recognize that sometimes the worst thing imaginable can lead him to the place he was meant to be?
Review: I’ll be honest, I didn’t like Ben at first. His brother Quentin’s opinion of him was spot on: absent, only home for obligatory purposes, and then back to his life to forget he really had a family back in Texas to begin with. Ben was selfish and chilly, more interested in success than family, and quite frankly, that he acted entitled to the good life irked me to no end.
Except this visit home isn’t just a visit; their parents are dead and Ben’s the only one who will take all three boys together. It seems like a no brainer, and I did like how their aunt played Ben like a piano, telling him she didn’t think he could do it so his competitiveness would kick in and he’d rise to the challenge. It was at this point I began to warm up to Ben. He genuinely cared, and had just gotten wrapped up in his career. The situation of taking care of his brothers knocked him down a peg or two, and as the book progressed, he realized things about himself that wouldn’t work to keep his family together and going forward.
Now Travis, he was another story. I liked him from the moment he appeared, and his down-to-earth nature struck me as genuine and kind. When he started to question whether his feelings for Ben were platonic or romantic, there was no surprise in it, but it was heartfelt and as innocent as prepubescent first love. I questioned Travis’s judgment giving Ben that amount of innocence, but it worked out, at least for awhile.
In Ben’s defense, he did his best to make it work. He knew he’d have to return to New York and his job at some point, and the thought of leaving Travis behind wasn’t something he could stomach well. So the visit to NYC was a good idea, and pointed out all the ways Ben and Travis were incompatible, as well as detailing how much more difficult it would be caring for his three brothers in such an environment. It was at this point that I began to genuinely like Ben.
Instead of running from the trouble (which he did start to do when he and Travis had their argument) he faced it, and while I thought it was big of him to admit to needing space to Travis on the plane home, I was saddened by it.
In the end, I liked the balance Boney struck between Ben being a good man doing the right thing for his family, putting others first, and knowing when to go for what you want, to ask for it, to be selfish even if it forces someone else into a choice.
Overall, solidly written and full of great secondary characters, and an MC who grew up enough to become likable in the end.