Rating: 5 stars out of 5
In the four years since the death of his wife, Travis Bennett has become a shell of the man he used to be. Travis raises his three children, manages his business, and works as a ranch hand, his only companion his dog, Dunkyn. The hole inside Travis feels as deep and recent as the day she died, a situation that often leaves him depressed and unable to shake off the moods it leaves him in.
Fond memories of the small Ozark town of El Dorado Springs and the need to leave his broken relationship behind, find Wesley Ryan moving into his grandparents’ old home and temporarily taking over the local veterinary clinic while that owner goes on a much needed sabbatical. But while the loving memories remain, the small town atmosphere isn’t exactly conducive to his colorful clothes and admittedly “gay” nature. Wesley is feeling pretty lonely until Travis brings in his corgi for treatment.
Travis’ reaction to Wes’ recommendation of surgery is far beyond Wes’ expectations. Travis is adamant that Dunkyn, his dog, be treated without surgery, something Wes knows the dog needs. Wes is sure he will be seeing the duo again. Travis, dog and all, is exactly the type of man Wesley goes for. But with three kids and a beloved wife in the past, Wes is sure he is straight. Or is he? Wes does know he came to El Dorado to get away from his man issues and he’s not looking for a relationship,, especially one with someone as complicated and loaded down with baggage as Travis Bennett. Fate, however, has plans for Travis and Wesley whether they want it or not…
First that gorgeous cover and then the synopsis drew me to this book but it’s the story within that has kept me thinking and repeatedly revising my overall connection to and perception of Then The Stars Fall by Brandon Witt.
So many elements about this story had me off balance right from the start. The plot is situated in a small (pop 3000 plus) conservative town, El Dorado Springs, in Missouri. There some of the citizens, including main characters, think nothing of dropping words like “faggot” and “retard” frequently into their conversations. These offensive terms are thrown about so carelessly that I almost put the book down before I had gotten past the opening chapters. That the main character, Travis Bennett, and his best friend are the main offenders made it worse. Yes, they were called on it, by Caleb,Travis’ oldest son, but did it stop? No. And I was appalled that the author thought I would be able to connect with a man such as Travis. But I did….eventually. Because Travis for all his faults (and there are so many) comes across as a complex human being, a realistic work in progress, especially at age 42. The world of pain, loss, and conflict in his background, combined with episodes of good deeds and even better behavior will have the reader flip flopping like a fish out of water in their opinions of this tormented man.
Next up his crude, loud and over the top best friend, Jason Baker, who spews such slurs,derogatory remarks, and unfair judgements with an equally unsettling ease that again I couldn’t believe we were supposed to like him. Quite frankly, I was afraid that was never going to occur but it did as well. Between Jason and Travis the almost constant barrage of offensive terms and slurs almost derailed this story. Luckily, the author balanced such raw characters with ones that were easier to empathize with and enjoy. Characters such as Wesley Ryan, Travis’ sister Wendy who I adored,, the Bennett children, and even the Corgis Dunkyn and Dolan, all lined up to pull the reader along the rippling narrative and keep us afloat until most of the people of the town combine to win us over. Quirky, obstinate, surprising and recognizably human, the folks of El Dorado Springs continue to show new facets of their personalities each time they appear in the story. And it’s these layers that will make the reader grow fond of the town and fonder of its people.
What else threw me off? The constantly changing point of view. After a while it felt more like the play Our Town than a novel. Everyone gets a chance to chime in here, even Dunkyn the dog. I have to admit at times I thought him far more admirable than some of the others characters, but then Corgis are like that. That large number of voices took some time getting adjusted to, but when you do, then this strange format enables the reader to get a real, intimate feel for El Dorado, its history, its present, and hopefully its future. We get a sense of community and that’s necessary for the reader to achieve because this town is so much a part of its people that it acts as just one more main character in a story full of them.
Looking back I can’t even remember when the shift of perspective started, when the affection I felt towards the characters and story outgrew my irritations until those faded away. It was a slow changeover for me, and yes, for Wesley as well. This is a town that takes a lot of getting used to. In Brandon Witt’s Authors Notes, he writes about his childhood which prompted this story. Here it is in his words:
I KNEW I would return to the world of The Shattered Door, the town I grew up in, one day. I wasn’t sure when or how, but then Travis and Wesley showed up, asking to be with Dunkyn and Dolan—or maybe it was the other way around. Shattered told the tale of the pain, fear, guilt, bullying, etc. that I felt growing up. However, there was another part during those years in El Dorado Springs. Lightning bugs. Thunderstorms. My grandpa’s buffalo. My chickens. Friends that I loved dearly. Simone’s Drive-in (if you’re ever driving on 54 and pass through El Do, you have to stop and get a burger. They’re perfect!). Despite the pain I felt a lot of the time, there was so much good, as well. So much beauty and love. I hope I was able to capture that aspect of El Do with Then the Stars Fall.
By the end of this story, Brandon Witt had really captured it all. The joys, the hardship and pain, the gorgeous memories and the manner in which a town grows a part of you, no matter your age or location. It was quite the emotional journey that Then the Stars Fell and its characters took this reader on. It constantly challenged me to think about the people, Wes and Travis’ romance, and the town as well as my own opinions and judgements. It held me firm to the story until I was completely won over. It’s a journey you shouldn’t miss. Then the Stars Fell by Brandon Witt is one of Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words must reads of the year. If Brandon Witt isn’t on your list of authors whose stories are automatic buys, he should be and this is just one more example why he belongs there. Grab it up today!
Cover Artist: Anne Cain. What an astonishing cover. So evocative of the farm and township of the story. One of the best of the year.
ebook, 350 pages
Published September 29th 2014 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 1632162598 (ISBN13: 9781632162595)